#11 : Maris: the Chojo

maris1Can’t a girl get a break? FOR REAL. Case study: Maris known as the Chojo, or the Supergal, is known to have “some” issues. She is short tempered, always broke, her parents are complete airheads and always asking for money, she has to work during her vacations, her boss is strict and she has to wear these odd braces around her body because she possesses super strength. Hence being the “Super Girl.” That… and the planet she was born on was blown up in front of her eyes as a child. Maris, Maris, Maris… don’t fret. I love you and you have many fans as well (stand up folks). Maybe your next assignment will have you saving some attractive guy who is the heir to a powerful family, maybe? It’s either that or go back to the world of women’s professional wrestling where you had that nasty rival, Zombie Sue. Such is the life of working for the Galactic Patrol’s Special Police. Much like the ending of the Malcolm in the Middle… “Life isn’t fair.”

maris3As a creation of Rumiko Takahashi, Maris the Chojo is much like a lot of her other work… a goofy, crazy, fun time. And it was Maris the Chojo (and Mermaid Forest as well) that got me onto the “Rumik train.” Many of her works, particularly the really popular titles including Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha and bonus points for you Urusei Yatsura fans out there, are very lengthy. Hundreds of episodes is a bit to take in and sometimes for certain properties or creators you need a smaller dosage. Luckily Maris the Chojo is a smaller property, just a one-off OVA part of the Rumik World series which featured other classics such as Fire Tripper, Laughing Target and the previously mentioned Mermaid Forest. And in my experience with Takahashi’s work, I love these shorter stories as they are for me more focused. Like many longer series, and this is not exclusive to any particular genre or creator, they are kept alive because of their popularity and in some ways it begins to wane or grow tired over time. Keep it short and sweet and with a solid ending.

maris2The beauty of Maris: The Chojo is it is a wonderful example of the early adoption of the direct-to-video format, the awesomeness known as the OVA. For the time of 1986, Maris: the Chojo could
have been a television special, maybe even a movie (but at about 45 minutes it’s kind of short), but never in a million years a TV series. But as an OVA, it’s JUST right. Also being one of Rumiko Takahashi’s lesser known titles, and much like other oddball OVA titles of the 1980s in particular, it makes collecting or hunting down these harder to find titles very appealing. Of course some titles are bad, but many are brilliant and they are all unique and different. Kind of like late 1960s/early 1970s rock music, anything went.

That and the lovely Mami Koyama provided the voice (kinda a fan of her you know?) for our short tempered red-head who can’t catch a break. Maybe Maris needs to learn about the Law of Attraction? All and all a whole lot of fun and one of the reasons I still use and love Laserdisc. …Oh, I forgot about her partner in crime Murphy. I leave that for you to learn about the crafty fox he is. No really, he is a fox!

#10 : GoShogun: The Time Étranger

It is time to be a bit sentimental. Can you show me an opening sequence that brings a tear to my eye? This one does! I have yet to see the entire original GoShogun series due to the fact that the only source I have found has no subtitles (speaking from August 2016). And yet it does not matter as this follow up, this movie or OVA, is enough of a stand alone piece that it works without any real prior knowledge. How we in the west got this without the original series (Macron 5 doesn’t really count this time) is a mystery? But life is a joyous mystery indeed.

TimeE1I heard of this one from a few people put this production into their 80s Top 10 listings and it sparked my interest to seek out this OVA. And I found it for around $5, nice deal! But what is this OVA, GoShogun: The Time Étranger? Étranger, that’s French for stranger. FANCY! Just don’t be confused with a similar production translated as Time Stranger, as that is a Studio Madhouse movie from 1986, this is a 1985 production. GoShogun: The Time Étranger was a follow-up OVA to a mecha series from 1981, Sengoku Majin GoShogun. This was a bit of a parody series where you have a group of three good guys (one being a very pretty lady) and three bad guys who eventually become the ultimate team of six friends. That was 1981, so what happened four years later? A bit of a tone shift.

Remember that lady I mentioned earlier. Her name name is Remy Shimada and she is the star of this OVA. Not only that, but I will be really honest here… I think of her as one of the most beautiful women in all of anime. She favors Voltron’s Princess Allura (Farla if you are a GoLion fan), but she has awesomely better hair. And she is voiced by Mami Toyama; love her voice (also Veronica Taylor gives a great performance in the dub)! ANYWAY… we begin with her in the desert where she asks, “Where am I? Where is everyone?” She then pulls out this massive revolver, points in to the sky and shoots. She turns and hears distant shots in the background and then… her five friends from the past emerge and comes toward her with anticipation and happiness. Isn’t that beautiful? I need a tissue folks; this scene does it to me every time I see it.

TimeE2So Time Étranger, the time stranger, where does this come into play? Simply put this production is told over three different times in Remy’s life. The first being her childhood in France (ah hence the French spelling perhaps?), the second a surreal environment during the time of the original GoShogun series (where she is approximately 20) and the third, the so-called present where Remy is all of 70 years old though she does not look a day over twenty (at least what we see of her, which is very little). All three segments are spliced together in a style very remeniscent to that of Federico Fellini’s surreal 8 1/2 (highly recommend this movie), with a heavy dose of suspense and drama that stands as a dichotomy from the original TV series. Also, each of these three episodes from Remy’s life all have one commonality, she ends up fighting for her life. How does she survive through each circumstance?

TimeE3I want to go back to the what I mentioned earlier; how did this OVA release in the west, particularly North America? I often think when I watch this about switching the characters from something more well known to me, say the Voltron/GoLion cast? There is enough room to allow this as the story is not tied into GoShogun particularly. This could be a great live action film, but I think it would loose it’s intimate flavor that I have grown to have with this production. But when one thinks of a follow-up or a so-called sequel, this OVA should be THE yardstick that any other production, live-action or animation, should follow. That and a few of the one-liners are priceless, ex: “It isn’t stolen, merely rented without the benefit of paperwork.” Timeless. And would you believe this was an early work for the director of Pokémon, Kunihiko Yuyama?

In the end what I learned from this OVA is that no matter how bad things can go somebody, somewhere wants to have you around and the inner strength you have for yourself to fight each and every day to give it your best shot is all that really matters. It’s very cliché, but this is a spiritual and special cliche interpretation for me. If people wonder why I love anime, this is one of the strongest examples. I even doubled dipped for this one (it’s worth the two separate DVD versions, long live Central Park Media). Funny how some of the more obscure titles become the ones that stick the most to your experience. But, that is why I am still mining the classic era (this is my opinion, yours can vary) of anime. GoShogun: The Time Stranger, you are truly a friend I love in a very special way.

#9 : Aim for the Top! Gunbuster

Igunbuster1 want to preface this with a little Pink Floyd lyric… “Remember when you were young. You shown like the sun. Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” I can take this a couple ways in regards to Gunbuster. First it is a love letter homage to an era of anime and special effects shows from the 1960s to about 1980. This is Studio Gainax remembering the beauty of discovering such fantastic visual fun in their youth. But, I have to point out our main heroine, Noriko Takaya, as the second reason. In this six episode OVA everything and everybody to some certain extent got older and or eventually left the material plane of her existence. All except Noriko, who because of traveling so much in sub-space remains forever young and in the process missed out on being with most of her peers. How many times have you felt that no matter what you did, you could not share it with certain individuals you truly loved?

gunbuster2Gunbuster begins amid much promise and joy as sixteen year old Noriko Takaya is a new student at an Okinawa high school that specializes in training space pilots. She hopes to someday be like her father (an admiral who died while serving in space), like her idol the beautiful and talented Kazumi Amano and prove herself able to the Coach Ohta (COACHEE!). Right from the word go we are essentially brought into a shojo sports anime that passes itself as a sci-fi mecha series (Aim for the Ace+Yamato+Getter Robo+Top Gun (wait that’s a Hollywood film)=GUNBUSTAA!!). Who knew one had to train in robots and run laps, do sit-ups and various other forms of exercise. I thought our heroes just climbed into mecha and magically knew how to pilot them from instinct?

Gunbuster3As stated earlier this is a love letter, the real definition of “Fan Service.” Aside from a couple shots of the usual “Fan Service” this show drips references of the many series I listed earlier and more as cues to say this show is for you or us. You loved this show, this type of character, this scene, etc.? Gainax is a studio founded by fans after all and this is them paying homage to the highest degree. It’s anime about anime. And what makes Gunbuster special is the fact that yes, there are a lot of these references, but it also tugs at you over time. Similar to Evangelion or Nadia (both directed by Hideaki Anno) we start off in fun and games and eventually step into the darker side. But Gunbuster is not so much grim as it is poignant. Young Noriko grows up learning about falling in love, reconnecting with the her lost past and maturity in general. It has a sweetness that is missing from Evangelion or Nadia. And it is this tenderness that makes it hold up still today. Plus, the artwork and animation is gorgeous and handled with the greatest of care. Even the last episode fades to that old standard of black and white. The first time I saw it I thought something was wrong with my TV.

Now Studio Gainax aside, if there is one individual who makes this OVA very special for me, it would have to be the great Haruhiko Mikimoto. I love this man’s work (I DO!, I DO!, I DO!) and for me, nothing and I mean nothing tops his character designs. The elegance and grace that is apart of his early signature style shows true form here and I rank the designs as great as the work he did for the original Macross and Orguss. “I wish they all could be Mikimoto girls”  (to the tune of Beach Boys’ California Girls). There is always a certain twinkle in the eye of those who are conceptualized by my man, right?

Gunbuster4Gunbuster may have been the second official project of Studio Gainax, and the directorial debut of Mr. Anno, but it would set a precedent that would follow for this group into the 1990s. It also reflects back to those of us who were excited about the future and the possibility of traveling through outer space like it was driving down the highway and piloting large mecha… but alas all we have are smart phones and wifi, kind of a let down when you compare it to our utopian vision of the future. Still there is a possibility if we all believe it is possible and stay young in heart and mind. Let’s raise a toast to you Gunbuster… we love you. KANPAI!!!

#7 : Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia

Ah the Dirty Pair… I mean Lovely Angels (watching to see if Kei is going to smack me), the quintessential dynamic duo of anime. You know them (at least I hope you do?), you love them and so do I. Of course we have had many renditions of these two trouble consultants for the WWWA including novels, television, OVAs, movies and that Flash series that I have no interest to dive into (maybe someday). But I want to look at a one-off oddball that just happens to be my favorite outing of Kei and Yuri. So grab Mughi and get the engines started as we head to the planet Ookbar so we can solve the… Affair of Nolandia.

Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia was my first trip with the Dirty Pair. Remember good old VHS? After finding a used copy of the Streamline release (more on this later) for a couple of bucks I gave it a shot and the rest is history for me. So what about this entry makes it perhaps my favorite outing, besides it was the first time with the ladies of WWWA?

Nolandia-1The look of this show is very different, not so much the settings, but the character designs. Gone are the more doe-eyed, cartoony look so familiar with these girls and what we get instead is a more streamlined  design reminding me a little bit of Zeta Gundam, a contemporary of this OVA. The tone is also a little different. Sure there are funny moments, but there are times when this show gets a little serious, particularly with the scenes dealing with psychic phenomena. And as for psychic or ESP ability, did you know that comes from the original novels? Very true and it is the only time this is ever seen in animated form. If you are familiar with the novels, you would know that Kei and Yuri became a team because both have clairvoyant talents. And if you didn’t know, READ, it does a body and mind good.

Nolandia-2.jpgSo what is it that brings our Lovely Angels out to Ookbar and eventually, the forest of Nolandia? Well let’s just say a scientist was looking to escape into exile and oddly the spacecraft he was traveling on ends up crashing. The pilots freaked out, stating that they saw the runway going all crazy. It so happens that this was in the same area our girls were sent to look for a missing psychic girl, Misuni, who is known to have powerful abilities. Can there possibly be a connection? Maybe. Of course along the way they have to deal with a large corporation, the local police force and a tough as nails tough guy, who happens to be a… now that would be cheating.

Nolandia-3Now back to Streamline pictures as I will now add in ADV as well. This is part of a handful of properties that have had an opportunity to be dubbed more than once. Of course the original Japanese track is great and ADV’s well… just gets the job done. The Streamline dub featuring Lara Cody (Kei) and Wendee Lee (Yuri) may be a little lighter in the translation, but this one works oh so well that I consider it canon, in my book. Both ladies brought a life to the girls that can rival the original voice actors. If you care to debate this by all means, but I am sticking to my guns. The Dirty Pair dubs may just be Streamline’s best work, with My Neighbor Totoro as well.

From what I could find from research, Affair of Nolandia was probably going to be an alternate OVA series that ended up only being a single outing. It would have been interesting to see where this different direction of the Dirty Pair would have gone, but that is now history. Thankfully we have this one and it is available on DVD and with both dubs no less.

#6 : Combat Mecha Xabungle

Xabungle4During an era when mecha shows on television were beginning to grow into a new form of sophistication through serious science fiction epics, which feature the titular named robot. Shows like the Xambot 3, Voltes 5, the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Ideon and Baldios showed the way into future. But, with all this taking everything completely seriously, there were moments when these studios and creators decided to do things a little more silly and spastic. Combat Mecha Xabungle would fit this alternate idea perfectly.

Xabungle2Ask many fans to say if they have heard of Yoshiyuki Tomino and usually two responses comes out: one, he is the guy who created Gundam and/or he is the guy who made horrid garbage like Garvey’s Wing. Of course there is middle ground in his career and Xabungle fits in quite nicely towards the better quality end. Known for his dark serious stories, which usually entail a large scale of character deaths. Now, would it surprise you that Mr. Tomino and staff can actually have a sense of humor? It goes to show that his popular reputation may not be completely true, though it is true he can be a bit of a cranky old man like Miyazaki (Hey kids get off my lawn!).

Xabungle is set in the future on the planet Zola, but this future takes it’s cues from the American Wild West. Though I would say it is not completely is this subject as there are themes that do not match up to the western genre, but the attitude is there. You do have cowboys, can-can dancers and towns in the desert, but you also have large land gunships, a caste system where the ruling class live in domed cities and other sci-fi concepts like brainwashing and large robots (yeah for giant robots). Also, on this planet there is basically one law, if you wish to seek revenge you have three days to accomplish your task. After that you should forgive what has been done and for our hero Jiron Amos, this is a law worth breaking. After all Timp Sharon, a guy who looks a lot like Clint Eastwood, murdered his parents. And would you take that standing down? No, but of course in the spirit of this show you have to trip, hover in the air, try to run back and fall down in the process.

Xabungle3I was surprised how well the comedy actually fit into the story. It is possible there may have been influence from the currently running Urusei Yatsura, famous for it’s hijinks, and maybe even the previous year’s parody filled GoShogun. I am sure this may have been partial to the fact as well to attract younger viewers, as this show was based on toys and not a model kit line, like that of Gundam. And in the tradition of Tomino character naming, we get some odd ones like Rag, Elchi, Blume and Chill (who has to be one of the best kid sidekick characters I have every seen) to name a few. But nothing tops Fatman, yeah Fat-o-man is more the appropriate pronunciation, but he is a muscle hulking quiet guy, not so much a fat man (still nothing tops Shot Weapon from Dunbine). But certain times there is some crafty writing such as Jiron saying, ‘I am the main character here’, or the comment when five of the characters end up in the Xabungle (by the way, it was built for two) and the comment came up, ‘hey why are there five in the Xabungle?’ ‘Well thats what you usually do in mech shows.’ EXACTLY! Let’s form Voltron, right?

Also, how many mecha series do you know where the robots, or should I say “Walker Machines”, run on ordinary pump gasoline, the same stuff you put into your car? The Xabungle does this, even the controls are a car’s steering wheel. And as for the titular blue bot, it’s not a bad design and it grew on me, but it’s replacement the Gallier never excited me. But the crown and glory is the Iron Gear, the heroes main land ship that turns into a giant robot (but no where near as impressive as the mighty Macross).

Xabungle1Xabungle never blew my mind, but I was not expecting a masterpiece. This show is a fun, silly time. It’s good, not great and I can’t call  it a classic, but it is one of those buried oddities that gets forgotten each passing year. In some ways I almost feel this show kind of harkens back to the simpler robot shows of the 1970s, though having a more complex plot structure without taking itself too seriously. If you have seen Xabungle, I salute you.

#4 : Birth

I have seen many opinions in regards to this one off. Some like it, some think it’s too weird, some think it’s garbage. I LOVE this OVA and I am out and proud of it. True it is an acquired taste, but I think I may know what turns off some, but also what turn’s me on to this oddity. What is it? Well that little ol’ production from 1984… Birth.

birth1Birth was a title I was lucky to come across very cheaply. Remember when you could get a brand new title off of Amazon for under $4.00? I believe I spent around $3.50 (the glory days of $2.99 shipping). I see it as one of the best return on investments I have ever put into any DVD, because I have watched Birth time after time after time and loved it more each time. And just what is it about Birth that I love so much? I mean it is basically a long chase scene and treasure hunt that ends with the whole universe… whoa wait, don’t want to spoil the ending now. Now… I present my reasons, so read on.

An animator’s playhouse: As someone who has a background, education and interest in art and design I often view certain anime a little differently. In this case I see this property as a fun time for all the animators and staff who worked on it. Very creative, but not serious and artsy fartsy (if you want to go that route try Angel’s Egg). If I could get a gig like this, I would say yes in a heartbeat.  Plus Yoshinori Kaneda had a big hand in it’s conception (see recommendations below). So expect lots and lots of motion. Plus, it was animated by one of my favorite, now defunct, smaller animation houses, Kaname Production. Also, Hideaki Anno (Mr. Evangelion) had a hand as well as an up and coming animator.

birth2Characters and their design: The design and animation of Birth is very much in contrast to almost a majority of what came out in Japan in the 1980s. The characters are very organic and blob like, maybe a touch liquidy. Is that is why the planet is called Aqualoid? Plus our main cast is a rag tag group. Our main duo, Rasa and Nam, are either brother and sister or boyfriend/girlfriend, in any case they are close and watch out for each other. Boa is a goof ball space trader who has a lolita complex for Rasa. His business partner, Kim, is often the voice of reason in their partnership. Plus you have your array of minor character including the Inorganics, other humans and these blob type things, one of whom belongs to Rasa and is named Monga. MONGA! MONGA!!!

birth4Humor: I find Birth to be amazingly funny. True some of the humor is ridiculous, but it works well for my tastes. I mean you have the scenes where Rasa is called out as a jiggly-butt by the Inorganic bikers or they have the comment “Just because a woman is smart does not mean she can sell a cow.” Or, the kid Inorganic hitting on Rasa and after rejection he has a scene at a beach. Or Bao just being Bao. All in all it is weird, spastic and goofy.

birth3A higher reason: Now how can Birth be deep? Well, the notion of the spirit like Arlia (hey she’s a pretty ghost according to Nam) explaining the universe is made up of several levels and that the Organics and Inorganics are both a product of the same source makes you think twice, what am I really watching here? Even goofy cartoons can add a like mind bend. Plus at the ending… oh yeah can’t spoil it if you have not seen it.

Music: And finally… the soundtrack… composed by the one and only… Mr. Joe Hisashi. Oh yeah, Miyazaki’s favorite composer did this one too. It has a similar vibe to what he did on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Not very orchestral and more synthesizer and pop/rock in it’s approach.

This is one that I think needs to be viewed in order to have a proper frame of reference. Or having the option of viewing it with someone who is familiar to the property to point things out or hear them chuckle at certain times. As I mentioned above this is an acquired taste, so take what you will from it. If anything this showed the freedom of the era it was produced because we just don’t see this kind of odd ball stuff being released as often anymore, unless there is a huge marketing campaign behind it. As for me if I need to make a top 10 of 80s anime, this is one I would include (honest).

#3 : Blue Comet SPT Layzner

I love, I really do love Blue Comet SPT Layzner. Despite it’s odd break in the so-called middle of the running that changed the show’s direction, there will always be a soft spot for it in my heart. It’s sad that when most people think of mecha and the studio Sunrise, only word comes out… Gundam. I shake my head. You have to dig deeper, because several years ago Sunrise was known for many shows, many different ideas, many that have gone off into the abyss of legend. SPT Layzner is one such series.

Layznerspt1I see SPT Layzner as a tale of two souls in one body, or perhaps two different, the first part kind of like the original Gundam, kind of, while the second is a mech show that takes many design cues from Fist of the North Star (showing the popularity of this Shonen Jump series). But at it’s genesis, SPT Layzner is a sci-fi mecha series that is told in the ‘future’, the ‘future’ of 1996. Well 1996 was the ‘future’ when the show aired in 1985. Not only that, but the Soviet Union never fell either and the Cold War continued well into the 1990s. If none of this rings a bell I suggest a quick run to your local library’s history section (we are here to talk anime my people). With high political and military tension in the air, what would be more perfect than to have an alien human race come to our solar system and attempt a take-over during all this? And guess what? We get just that.

Layznerspt2Just before this maelstrom, we begin our story with a group of students and their teacher making there way to Mars as part of an effort to foster the peace of the Earth. These students get caught up into the upcoming hell of the Gradosian invasion losing  a majority of their classmates and friends. Upon seeing so much death and destruction these kids catch a glimpse of a blue robot fighting against these invaders not really sure who this lone fighter is. And it is from this robot we meet it’s pilot, a terrified, confused, but bravely determined young man Eiji Asuka (Null Alberto) voiced by one of my fav seiyu, Kazuhiko Inoue. His warning of this invasion is met with caution and hatred as he is one of them, a Gradosian. How can he prove his authenticity and trust? Only time will tell as these students struggle to survive with this new ally.

spt-lz-00xNow I will be very, very biased here, but I think the SPT-LZ-OOX is perhaps the best mecha design ever (by the way SPT stands for Super Powered Tracer). It’s small, sleek and sexy, but very functional. Almost like a great sports car or rally racer. And it’s BLUE, beautiful blue. A Gundam, Ingram, Scopedog, Valkyrie, or your odd assortment of super robots also have their merits and are great, but the Layzner for me is personal. That is what I am looking for on the showroom floor. I wonder if you can downhill it like in Initial D? Hey… wasn’t there a guy in Initial D named Ryosuke Takahashi (Layzner’s director if you didn’t know)? Makes you wonder?

Despite a rushed ending on aired television, a second chance would come the way of releasing direct to video. A three volume OVA would retell the backstory of the two separate arcs, episodes one and two, and a third volume finished off what remained with more breathing room. So now it all comes full circle, but I will say this to you SPT Layzner… You may not be perfect and I don’t care, but I love you anyway. Now is it worth a watch despite it’s minor flaws? Oh hell yes. Plus the opening song, Melos no Lonely Way by the band Airmail over Nagasaki… awesome.