#170 : Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone / Space Firebird 2772

1980… the height of the space opera boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s would enter a new decade. Yamato, Gundam and Galaxy Express 999 would come before and now a familiar name would throw his hat into the ring. Enter the ‘God of Manga’, Osamu Tezuka, and his first presentation of his grand myth, The Phoenix, in a full animated production. A live action film with animated segments would tell a historical account from one of the chapters of The Phoenix in 1978, but this film would be an alternate retelling of the space related chapters and 100% pure anime. Tezuka’s Phoenix anime re-workings are some of the most special anime ever made (personal opinion), but how does Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone fare?

SF_1In the far future, the Earth is in dire trouble. Over polluted, lacking resources and at the point of social collapse we find our beautiful planet at both a major crisis and a crossroads. We begin our filmic journey by following our hero, Godo, as a a test tube baby and witness his process of growing up in isolation. Eventually he is joined by a robot companion, Olga, who helps to raise him. These beginning sequences remind me of silent films, or perhaps the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with dialogue being nonexistent and fluid motion being the only storyteller… as well as the background music. Once Godo reaches full maturity, his place is to become a pilot, but this is short lived since he shows a trait of humanity by not wanting to kill innocent life. Also he has eyes on a girl who is set to wed one of the powerful elite… another no-no. This gets him into serious trouble, which leads to a prison sentence where he meets a stock in trade Tezuka archetype, the large nosed man older man and a fellow who happens to be none other than Blackjack.

SF_2Godo still believes in his mission despite the setbacks, which I have yet to devulge. That is to capture the Phoenix from which the blood can be used to give life back to the dying Earth. Eventually with the help of friends Godo escapes and sets off to find this mysterious bird. When Godo eventually comes into contact with the mythic bird of fire the true essence of the story begins to speak as Godo  learns what all protagonists in any of The Phoenix stories, that life is more precious than anything else and the love between souls is far stronger than any want or need in the name of ignorance, or power. Sacrifice and karma must be weighed in order to achieve a true sense of enlightenment and fulfillment.

SF_3The space opera sci-fi of Phoenix 2772 is well animated, as expected from the likes of Tezuka, who was Chief Director of the project… The BIG Boss! He incorporated techniques seen in his more experimental projects, which makes Phoenix 2772 unique looking amongst the other films of the time, Toward the Terra as an example. Also Tezuka’s character designs harken back to a previous era, though with updated fashion and hairstyles. All in all, a true blockbuster of a film, yet, I have to scratch my head on this portion of the Phoenix mythology. Phoenix 2772 is kind of awkward. A few of the animation sequences take on an almost comedic or fluid quality and a couple of the animal/alien characters seem to be added in for comic relief and juvenile appeal. Mixed with the epic story of finding the Phoenix and understanding true love, Phoenix 2772 can feel a little schizophrenic.

SF_4Phoenix 2772 may be the weakest entry in all of the Phoenix anime I have seen, but it is far from bad, or even average. It has it’s quirks and for some of you it may not be much of a problem, but I hold The Phoenix name very high. The trilogy from later in the decade (Karma, Yamato and Space) is some of the best anime from the 1980s (again my opinion) and I would recommend these first. Even so, at the heart of Phoenix 2772 is a tale of sacrifice, redemption and emotional drama, all qualities that make Tezuka’s Phoenix entries special. This in it’s self makes Phoenix 2772 qualify as a close second to the trilogy and a unique entry into the beginning of the decade of the 1980s.

#168 : Dream Hunter Rem

The world of dreams is a mysterious one. Often times we live out our greatest fantasies, or anxieties, in the dead of night when the subconscious is open to play. It is in particular that nightmares come into question for this entry as we explore an anime where our heroine works within this world of dreams. A variant of the magical girl, Dream Hunter Rem is a cult classic OVA series that beyond the cute clothing, can be quite intense and dramatic… horror and suspense at it’s best. So, what did you dream of last night? I had a vision to tell you all about Miss Rem’s stories.

DHR_1The usual case of an anime property that keeps ongoing with sequels is that it starts off really strong and them fades off, or the quality of consistency remains equal through out and when you are finished you feel a sense of satisfaction. Dream Hunter Rem is the opposite to both of these statements. This is a series that started out fair, decent if you may, and as each successful OVA was released the stakes, quality and storytelling would grow in leaps and bounds to the point that by the end of the third and final OVA I was sad to see it go. Who would have thought a half hour hentai stripped down from it’s more pornographic roots and re-released with a filler episode in a more mainstream and general style would spawn two sequels and leave behind legacy… albeit in the ranks of cult stature.

DHR_2Rem Ayanokōji has it all… an adorable cat (Alpha), a cute dog (Beta), a Colt 44 Magnum (is this a real gun?), a Honda City Turbo and a detective agency… not bad for a junior high aged girl. Oh and I forgot, teal green hair! Rem’s business is based off her gift of diving into other’s dreams and subsequently relieving evil thoughts and spirits that can possess us and give us trouble. A true exorcist who knows her trade. When all else fails call Rem! This gift robs her of having her own dreams and one of her goals is to get them back. She usually sleeps near a client, or even sometimes in the same bed. While in her dream dive when she encounters any foes that become problematic, Rem can transform into a bikini like costume and with sword in hand kick some butt! Reminiscent of another 1985 magical girl, Yohko from Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko. Even her cat and doggie can transform too into more fearsome examples of their breeds to help out when she is in a pinch. Wait a minute, what happened to the gun? I guess the silver bullets she uses can only go so far.

DHR_3Several characters aid in support of Rem through out the three episodes including two men who act like her unofficial partners. This includes Detective Sakaki, a surrogate father figure, and a mysterious monk, Enkō. Enkō, much like a guardian angel, protects Rem similar to the dynamics of Miyu and Larva in Vampire Princess Miyu. Their destinies are intertwined and by the third episode, which in my opinion is the great work of the episodic trilogy, we learn that they have shared many a past lives as dedicated lovers. Soulmates never die?  A common feature to all three episodes are Rem’s classroom intermissions. Need a mid-episode break? These segments introduce you to the science behind dreams and how the brain functions during our times of rest. How often do you find OVAs that are covertly educational? … if even for only five minutes.

DHR_4Always remember to never fear because Rem can protect you at night my friends. Nightmares beware and evil spirits run and hide… I know a dream hunter who will aid me in case I get an itch of fright. Sleep soundly, sleep tight and awake tomorrow to see the bright sunny light. A simple poem I dedicate to our beloved Rem, who forever will be our guardian of the nocturnal, have a good night and Amen … “Stars shining bright above you, Night breezes seem to whisper “I love you”, Birds singing in the sycamore tree, Dream a little dream of me.”

#167 : Robotech

In the year 1985, inside a basic home in a small town of the Midwestern U.S., a single television show that aired the afternoons I got home from school would alter the course of my personal history… as an anime fan to be precise. I remember very well the time was 4:00 pm and the channel on the television would land on the number 11 and for a half hour from Monday to Friday, it would be time to watch this odd show in the mix of a ton of other possibilities called Robotech.

RT_1Now I will be the first to admit that Robotech is not quote unquote official anime, it is in my own phrasing ‘adapted anime’. Eventually many of us who grew up with this show, would progress on to see and experience the original three series that made up Robotech (Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada), but I have not forgotten my roots. While Robotech is often poo poo-ed in some fan circles, and I can agree with all the DVD releases being a bit excessive and Harmony Gold being very stubborn, but let’s look at this show for what it was for me as a kid, a mere budding anime fan. This was my gateway drug, a very powerful one at that for my generation. Terms like anime and otaku and large scale franchises like Studio Ghibli, Pokemon and Shonen Jump were unknowns for a little kid growing up in the mid-1980s in the Midwest of the U.S. This was most likely true for you as well if you are of a similar age as myself. This was the wild west of late Generation X where we didn’t have all the fancy terminology, conventions, or even the internet. All we had was a gut sense reaction saying… you know… I really like something about THIS show.

RT_2Often times anime that is broadcast here in the west, particularly the U.S., is often reinterpreted, adapted, or perhaps censored to a certain degree. Free speech?! Robotech changed names to more Anglican terminology, or got close in translation, or just left some of them alone, took out Japanese references like text, etc., totally changed the meaning of protoculture, shoe horned three unrelated series into a single timeline and added a fresh soundtrack. … Might I say, what a fine soundtrack it still is! … And the final product, which if you take into consideration had a short time of assemblage and production, is quite well done for the time. Carl Macek, the main producer behind the show, should be given a medal for what he did to put together Robotech. He had a job to do and did the best he could. If anyone ever bad mouth’s Carl’s work on Robotech, at Streamline Pictures, or his later works, I will ask the question, what would you do if you had these tasks?

RT_3Now let’s consider what Robotech did right, or left in tact so to speak. The concepts of interracial relationships, a transgender, or gender non-conforming character and even characters showing a side of doubt, depression, or anxiety were not seen much in terms of general television in 1980s. Yet, a “kids” show had it all and opened up a world of a more diverse human experience. Characters did not go to a hospital planet when they become mortally wounded, they died! And in terms of dialogue, Robotech never talked down to you with immature of more childish language to appeal as safe to the public. It was an anomily, lightning in a bottle and even though Robotech is far from perfect (and I ask you just what is perfect?), it is at least genuine in terms of expressing a total array of human emotion and experience through the lens of sci-fi fantasy.

As an impressionable youth in the aftermath of the original Star Wars run, barraged by other cartoons and comic book super heroes, Robotech, amongst other anime at the time would become my go to for fantasy, adventure and defining a personal sense of mythology. I owe my love of anime to Robotech and I often find it ironic that even though I see Robotech as a large epic, it is unknown to many younger, or newer fans of anime. Some older fans dismiss it, some are stuck on it as the only “anime” they know and others like myself, see it as a first step into a world of wonder that continues to grow each and every day.

… and yes, I prefer the unmastered original version 🙂

For reviews on the original anime that made up Robotech:

Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross
Genesis Climber Mospeada

#166 : Stop!! Hibari-kun!

Be on the lookout for white alligators! … In essence Stop!! Hibari-kun! is like many screwball high school romance, or family comedies that can be easily overlooked. And with it being a Shonen Jump property, I am sure Stop!! Hibari-kun! goes more with High School Kimengumi in the overlooked pile being it is a sibling to more popular heavy weights like Dragon Ball, or more fitting Kimagure Orange Road (romcom over action). Gender identity, yakuzas, family and comedic sequences that stretch the boundaries of believed reality and science are what makes this 1983 TV series a laugh out loud insane asylum, though there is one joke I don’t see as all that funny, but I take it in stride.

SHk_1Every show of this category has it’s niche that defines the comical plot and undertones that define other characters actions. Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! has two with the first being that Hibari is an early example of an openly honest transgender character in anime. Through she is often referred to as he, or a crossdresser, or sometimes… a… ‘pervert’? For real? Men who decide to wear women’s clothes, women who like to be more masculine, or those beautiful souls who identify as trans are not perverts! Hibari as a strong willed character defends her identity with ease because she knows she is awesome at everything… literally, she is a prodigy at almost anything! Yet as someone who grew up not as confident, and also identifies somewhere different on the gender spectrum, ‘pervert’ was a word I often associated with myself for years and even decades out of shame and guilt. Times and attitudes may be changing, but sometimes personally, we all have to catch up to ourselves to a certain degree.

SHk_2The running joke of the cute ‘girl’ is really a ‘boy’… transwoman!… creates havoc on Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! other main protagonist Kosaku Sakamoto. After his mothers death he comes under the care of the Obari family, who happen to be yakuza, yet another layer to add to the plotline. Kosaku notices that old man Obari has only daughters and eyes onto Hibari… and then the secret gets out and this creates tension within Kosaku. Wow, she is adorable, but she is… this can’t be right… oh Kosaku… you know you want her! All the other boys at school are jealous that she likes you, but they see her as any other cis-girl. As even the opening credits says, color TVs have many shades of color and the same thing applies to boys and girls. If only Stop!! Hibari-kun! came out more recently instead of 1983, Kosaku may be more open to a relationship outside the cis-normative binary.

SHk_3Beyond the upsetting of traditional gender roles and stereotyping, the majority of Stop!! Hibari-kun! is the loaded with stock and trade high school, family and yes even yakuza antics that can ring true no matter the show… you have to laugh because this show is very funny. This of course includes the entire cast, which by show’s end must contain the entire population of the world of Stop!! Hibari-kun. The comedy, action and even certain characters go into levels of campiness and surreal insanity that kept me wanting each successive episode. What will happen next time?, top that?, or boundaries?… limits?… let‘s break them up! This is the advantage of using animation as a medium for comedy as why be subtle when anything, and I mean anything can be possible. Yet the most poignant moment of the show was Hibari meeting someone else who is also transgender, using the term newhalf. It gave her a sense of grounding and me as well that despite all the silliness, white alligators and insanity, we can also have a sparse moment that recognizes we are not alone even if we feel a little different.

SHk_4My biggest complaint beyond the use of the word ‘pervert’ was that Stop!! Hibari-kun ran far too short in the episode count. Just 35? I was getting warmed up, but alas certain show runs are often limited; I am fortunate we got we have that is available. This was a welcome entry both as a comedy and also as a show depicting someone who is transgender. I often wonder what happened to Hibari? Did she fully transition, or does she live fluidly, or something else? Maybe the manga has more to say on this… it often does usually. Don’t Stop! Hibari-kun!

Side note… the actors who played Kosaku and Hibari… Tohru Furuya and Satomi Majima respectively are husband and wife!

#165 : Wicked City

Our world is not what it seems. Beneath the surface of the apparent calm and modernity of our lives resides a more primal force. Do things go bump in the night where a shadow world coexists in parallel with our modern civilization? Indeed it does. While there are peace treaties between both the light and dark worlds, there are rogues who disturb this peace and give a bad name to the darker side of existence. Enter the Black Guard, a secret organization of humans who fight these monster terrorists of the shadow realms. For one Black Guardsman, our protagonist Taki Renzaburō, an assignment with a brand new partner to escort and guard an emissary to an upcoming peace negotiation would change his life forever.

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Wicked City, while loaded with eroticism and violence, is very tasteful and exudes style. As a Madhouse production we see a heavy emphasis on great line work, color, mood and lighting. Adding in the directorial style and character designs of action superstar Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) we gain more to the overall package. While still an action film, Wicked City is so much more, like fine jazz with monsters and the supernatural, occasional nudity/sexual action and Kawajiri’s signature element of cool. If a B grade action movie, a horror film, and a passionate late night romance flick got married under the umbrella of animation we would get Wicked City. And the product would become a first class production… a sum of separates becoming greater than the whole, but still at heart a B-movie.

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Now with all the film-noir esthetic and the action you may think you have the entire plot and structure of this movie. Not quite. One might miss a very important element to Wicked City, though it’s hard not to. This is a genuine love story. A true romance based on bringing together two people destined for each other, yet from completely different backgrounds. “Two different fates, my love paramour, ooze out and away…” (any Cocteau Twins fans?). The bringing together of protagonist Taki with his new partner Maki (how cute, it rhymes) destines many great things for the future of both humanity and the dark world. Ironic that the match maker is an emissary for the human world, Taki and Maki’s assignment, who is one dirty old man who makes Dragon Ball’s Roshi seem tame in comparison. Oh Giuseppe Mayart, you’re such a character. Being part of the Black Guard may not pay much and includes a lot of risk, but you can meet your special someone if you take the right assignment. How’s that for job security?

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While the original Japanese track is quite good, I have a strong love for the English dub. As one of Streamline pictures best recordings in my opinion, Wicked City would be naked without the voice work Greg Snegoff’s adaptation of Taki. Do you remember Golgo 13 in The Professional: Golgo 13, or Scott Bernard from Robotech? Yeah that guy! Taki is my favorite role Greg ever played, almost as if it was tailor made for him. Mike Reynolds as Giuseppe Mayart is hilarious and much of the cast is very familiar if you have seen any other Streamline dubs, or even Robotech, you will hear many familiar tonal resonances from these characters. The debate of dub vs. sub, or older dubs vs newer dubs can be arbitrary. If it floats your boat, it’s the only ship worth sailing on.

WC_4Back in the day many of us in the west thought anime was more mature focused, heavy in action and that old cliche, “Not a cartoon… not kids stuff.” Wicked City was a target example of this trend, yet like the cream in one’s coffee, it rises to a slightly higher standard. Much like Fist of the North Star and Wicked City’s fellow sibling Vampire Hunter D… and I say this because because the original novel based on both Wicked City and Vampire Hunter D are products of author Hideyuki Kikuchi, Wicked City presents a story filled with action and mature themes, but also contains substance underneath the facade of being “bad-ass.” My personal favorite of Kawajiri’s work along with his direction on Phoenix: Space Chapter.

#164 : Locke: The Superman

LtS_1Never mind the fact that Locke is a superhero’s superhero and an esper beyond all espers. You know what I think makes Locke really cool? His hair! Anime hairspray is the best in the whole world as it can hold up any fancy stylized coiffure. An after thought film from 1984, a year which featured three blockbuster films that defined the 1980s, Locke: The Superman is a title that exudes cult status, a true outsider. It is not a title one often runs across everyday in terms of classic anime, but I am sure it will pop up from time to time for all of us if we are on searches for new or familiar titles. And yet in a way I am sure the character of Locke may find a little joy in being in a film that is not as well recognized. It fits well with his own private character.

LtS_2The history of Locke fascinates me as a quick search shows that he has origins all the way back to the 1960s as a manga franchise. Locke has been around a long time (and it is still in publication!), but he is not as common a name like say Astro Boy, Cyborg 009, Lupin III, or even Golgo 13. Much work exists, but Locke fits more into a niche category. Yet their is nothing niche about Locke: The Superman beyond being the one who gets picked last at recess. He is a mystery, a young looking man who has lived longer than many of us, who mostly lives a peaceful secluded life as often as he can. He is very wise, not big on violence and possesses great psycho-kenetic abilities that make him an enigma to some. He could rule or control the universe if he so chooses. Yet he knows he holds great esper powers and uses them only when necessary, kind of similar to Fist of the North Star’s Ken (though Ken is a martial artist). This is Locke’s fate, his karma, his knowing that true power requires responsibility.

LtS_3A young officer, Ryū Yamaki, has great interest in the hermetic Locke at the beginning of the film. He hopes to convince Locke to return to the service to help in investigating and eventually stopping one Lady Kahn from creating a great esper empire, the Millennium, a group that Lady Kahn once persuaded Locke to join some time ago. Locke of course refused, preferring the life of a sheep herder. Amongst the many training espers of Lady Kahn is a young girl named Jessica, who has both great potential as a soldier and a shadowy past where she believes Locke was the murderer of her parents. This of course was fabricated so that she could be the ultimate weapon against the powerful Locke and in many ways I feel she is as much the main protagonist as Locke. Jessica receives training from one Miss Cornelia Prim (I love that name!) and eventually meets up with Yamaki during a bought of amnesia. Que the song… “Strangers in the night, exchanging glaces…”, you get the idea? Why not add romance into an already complicated plot line of mystery, intrigue and esper superpower action? And don’t forget, awesome hair! All the great writing, and plot twists will mean nothing if one does not show off incredible locks held up with vast amount of anime hairspray! 🙂

LtS_4Locke: The Superman is a product of Nippon Animation, a studio I am more familiar with stories of history and coming of age adventures (the World Masterpiece Theater shows as examples), yet Locke is total sci-fi action. A nice showing of a diverse portfolio for a studio that I had pigeon holed into only one category. Compared to bigger films of that era, Locke feels smaller in scale in terms of art and editing. Looking a couple years out of date, or perhaps similar to a TV series in terms of production, don’t let this detract you as this is still a fine movie. Perhaps the budget may not have been as high as a Nausicaa or Macross: DYRL, but it serves its purpose very well. I see nothing wrong with adding a film showing a little grit to go against all the other highly polished options.

 

#157 : A Journey Through Fairyland / Fairy Florence

AJTFL_1May I present the love child between Disney’s Fantasia and the Isao Takahata directed Gauche the Cellist. Classical music framed around animation is nothing new, but how many can fall under the banner of Sanrio? The quintessential company of cute is so much more than Hello Kitty and for a time Sanrio released full length animated features. Released in 1985 A Journey Through Fairyland, originally titled Fairy Florence, would be the final film of the original lineage of Sanrio produced cinema treasures and it would go out in grand style and cement a legacy that is often over looked in anime. Join us as we celebrate a true ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ under this ‘Moonlight Sonata’.

AJTFL_2Our protagonist Michael is an aspiring oboe player and attends a very posh conservatory. Fancy! Music is very much Michael’s passion… yet not his only joy. It seems he also has a way with plants, a true green thumb. Music and botany… an interesting combination, just don’t forget about occasional allergies. This balancing act of interests has Michael in the green house caring for the flora and fauna often, so he is often late for rehearsals and may not be practicing enough to keep up with the rest of the orchestra. His teacher seems to agree and is concerned as the boy has a great talent that may be going to waste. After one particular practice Michael finds an abandoned flower in the campus courtyard and rescues it by taking it back to the nursery. Saving the flower’s life he discovers the flower fairy Florence who invites him on a journey he will never forget.

AJTFL_3As Michael’s quest begins we can start to see the similarities to the two films mentioned previously, Fantasia and Gauche the Cellist. My my, you look so much like your parents! Fantasia’s open visual interpretations are very obvious when Michael begins his quest with Florence. With wild colors, crazy creatures and a little dancing, I think we have ourselves a party! The basic story however is akin to Gauche the Cellist. Hmm, sounds familiar… a musician having trouble playing their instrument and needing some encouragement and support in getting their groove back… sure sounds similar to Gauche the Cellist. Except where is the tanuki this time round, or Indian Tiger Hunting? As for both films influencing A Journey Through Fairyland, I don’t consider it cheating or stealing. Maybe more like ‘borrowing‘ these ideas? “It isn’t stolen, merely rented without the benefit of paperwork.” (Thank you GoShogunThe Time Étranger)

AJTFL_4While light and easy in plot development, A Journey Through Fairyland more than makes up for this in terms of visual presentation. It’s just pretty… no wait… purrty. And with a fine cross section of western compositional classics from Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert and Tchaikovsky (wait a minute… no Satie!) to color one’s ear drums, the pastel visuals become the frosting on the cake for your auditory and ocular pleasures; its easy to get lost in these unfolding visuals. Can one have a visual version of a sweet tooth? Perhaps A Journey Through Fairyland could be considered psychedelic to a certain degree? Or better yet, A Journey Through Fairyland is like being wrapped up a big fluffy oversized warm blanket that makes you feel all safe, warm and super cozy. Very soft, gentle and easy to relax with so just breath in and chill out. A Journey Through Fairyland, a meditative family film. Or, perhaps the anime equivalent to microfiber, or memory foam?

A Journey Through Fairyland is unequivocally true fantasy with no need for boundaries. Limitations… yeah they can be checked in at the door, but they are not allowed in. There is no gravity here to tie down ones’s imagination, or creativity so sit back, get comfy and enjoy the ride. A Journey Through Fairyland is a pure example of what I call an animator’s playhouse where anything goes. This movie helps us remember that there is magic in the world and all around us. See that tree, magic… see that flower, magic… hearing the distant sounds of music, magic… and even watching classic anime… now that’s definitely a special kind of magic, but you already knew that. 🙂