#179 : One Pound Gospel

Romance and Rumiko Takahashi, a beautiful combination that always equals success. Even though the popular long epics of Takahashi are usually at the tips of our tongues in regards to personal favorites (Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha), it is the shorter productions, some of them one-offs, that at least for me top lists of my favorite work by the ‘Queen of Manga’. All the great laughs and stories without any added filler that make a nice neat package. There is one example that is a true one-two punch, no pun intended… or is it intended? Boxing, faith and a bad case of the munchies… may I present One Pound Gospel.

OPG_1Kosaku Hatanaka is a hungry young up and coming boxing talent that has promise, but a major flaw. His punch delivery is brilliant, but he desires for something else. Becoming a boxing champion is not so much it, though he wants to perform well. Kosaku is obsessed with eating food almost all the time, which presents problems for keeping him at his class weight maximum. Can you blame him though? Being half starved, he often gorges a meal in secret, which either keeps his weight too high, or worse, throws up in the ring… gross. A recent binge meal came from a chance encounter with a young nun who felt sorry for the young man’s condition of monitored starvation. She feels guilty and from this chance encounter blossoms a relationship that I would have never thought could have existed… a boxer and a nun… now that’s different.

OPG_2Owing up to his ‘sins’, Kosaku begins to train harder. He even takes to the streets where he runs and shadow boxes, often times with comedic outcomes… watch out for that right jab! Soon a rival comes forth to challenge this hopeful talent. Can Kosaku stay the course and commit to his talents? Nope… temptation is always around the corner and much like any addict he begs one of his gym mates for ¥500, or even ¥1,500 just to satisfy his cravings for ramen, or kabobs. His coach is aghast and offers a barbeque meal and suggests he should retire so he can pig out when ever he wants. All the while Sister Angela, the ever faithful nun, still believes in him, but is angered that he can’t see his flaws are hurting himself and those around him.

OPG_3Though the roles of boxer and nun are a unique combination, the underlying character archetypes are ever present in a romantic comedy. Kosaku is not stupid, but naive and a little immature, while Angela is strong willed, yet tender. She is faithful to what is good inside Kosaku, though it does push her buttons from time to time. Such is true in any relationship, it is the learning for accepting flaws both inside us and with a significant other that allows us to grow and prosper as human beings. After all to learn more about yourself don’t look in a mirror, just see how the dynamics in your relationships play out, be it love or friendship. Often times where we screw up is where we learn our biggest lessons. … Kosaku, put down those snacks! Will the boy ever learn?

OPG_4Another point to remember with One Pound Gospel is to look at the director, Osamu Dezaki. Known for his creative use of still shots and lighting, he let’s most of his signature skills take a back seat to support Rumiko Takahashi’s original look… though he does from time to time fit in the Dezaki magic! Boxing is nothing new for Dezaki as he directed the influential Ashita no Joe, a true classic. That being said, Dezaki and Takahashi make a great combination that delivers action, comedy and sincerity. One Pound Gospel is more than a knockout of a great romantic comedy, it’s a real winner.

#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.

#51 : Fire Tripper

Is love predestined? Can love transcend time? Can you recognize a soul male in the most unexpected place? If you can answer yes to these three questions then you have an amazing life and partner and understand a higher level of law of attraction. Let’s look at a love story that transcends space and time but, watch out for fire or explosions as we enter the world of Fire Tripper.

FT_1The first entry in Rumiko Takahashi’s Rumik World OVA series, 1985’s Fire Tripper represents what I love about the so-called queen of comedy mangaka. True she is well known for her long, very long, series that are some of the most popular titles in all of anime… I want a show of hands of those of you who love Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Ranma 1/2 or InuYasha? While these shows are classic, I personally like her shorter tales. And the Rumik World collection are perfect gold for me. Give me Maris the Chojo, Laughing Target, Mermaid Forest or… Fire Tripper. Also… give me a more serious storyline (I’m melancholic in temperament).

FT_2Suzuko is your typical schoolgirl except for two things. One, her best friend and next door neighbor is a little boy named Shu. Shu adores Suzuko like an older sister and her nature toward him is almost maternal. And two, in the presence of being caught in an explosion and fire, Suzuko can… travel through time. No, seriously. In one of these explosions she is transported back to the medieval civil war where she meets a tough young man named Shukumaru who has an adopted sister named Suzu. As the plot unfolds it turns out that Suzuko and Suzu share a bell necklace and that Shukumaru has the same scar as young Shuhei. Do I see a pattern here?

FT_3So… sorry to spoil the plot here kids, but these two individuals have known each other in two distinct eras of time as young children and the older senpai type relationship. Now with the passing hands of destiny, they can meet each other during the primes of their youth and realize their connection is meant to be. I may have written it out here as a little corny or staged, but trust me if you have not seen Fire Tripper it is farther from the truth. What we see is the growth of what seems like two completely incompatible people learning to look beyond the proverbial first impression.

FT_4Historically speaking, at least for me, Fire Tripper was the first production of Rumiko Takahashi that I gave a chance to. I was never too big on Ranma’s comedic antics and I tried a couple episodes of Urusei Yatsura, but did not feel like watching the near 200 episode count. Fire Tripper would fall on my lap one day and like destiny so to speak I fell in love instantly. And from there I would move onto Maris the Chojo and Mermaid Forest, my two favorites by Takahashi. So now I realize why Madame Takahashi is held in high regard. I just needed the proper medium at the right time so to speak.

When looking back at all the anime that has been created, we often find many a diamond in the rough. Many shine brightly, or uniquely on their own accord. In the course of time loves shines above all and Fire Tripper shines like no other… ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’.