#31 : Arcadia of My Youth

aomy_1“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?” The Dude of course has his response. I can’t say for sure what makes a man as gender is a difficult thing to define. It is always a personal expression and definition. But what I can say, is who defines to me to be the architypal symbol of THE man. Not some loud mouth, ultra macho bravado type. Someone strong, determined, honorable and humane and yet a total individual willing to go his own way. That man, to me, is the stoic space pirate, the rebel of the establishment, the only person I know who can rock a facial scar and eyepatch like no one else. Captain Harlock. Leiji Matsumoto’s quintessential hero has been a part of many stories, but one stands out above the rest, the 1982 film Arcadia of my Youth.

aomy_2Being a man of mystery and one of few words, finding the origins of Captain Harlock can be a difficult task. And of course every story that Harlock has been a part of in the vastness of the Leijiverse is always a little different. In Arcadia of my Youth we get the closest to who this man is. Harlock though a strong presence on whatever screen he presents on has his ghosts and skeletons that haunt him. Though he may meet friends and has one he loves, in the end he is alone, on the run, or if he does win in some ways he is defeated. Such is the beginning of the film where we find Harlock aboard his battered ship the Deathshadow after a bitter defeat against the Illumidas Empire, a race of humanoid aliens who have taken over the Earth. Fighting for the Earth and it’s people has become a lost venture and the only thing Harlock can do to is to crash his ship and destroy a runway to leave the message saying you may have beaten me, but I will take something of yours in return.

aomy_3As a film, Arcadia of my Youth feels old fashioned and that is not such a bad thing. It feels like an homage to classic black and white films of yore that made impacts on Leiji Matsumoto youth… his Arcadia. One such example is Marianne of my Youth, a french film which features an actress that left her impact on many of Matsumoto’s famous designs. And much like classic films this is a slow paced affair. The action and battles are present, but the real drama is the slow building between the interactions of the characters themselves. And from these interactions and scenes we see the cast of the ‘Leijiverse’ (Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas, etc.) meeting themselves for the first time as well as interpretations of Harlock’s reason for wearing the eyepatch and the scar wounding on Emeraldas face.

aomy_4The film also puts a lot of things into perspective as well, at least for me. Particular are the flashback scenes during World War II. Growing up in America the easy answer was always we were the good guys and the Germans, the bad. Well not always the case. As the 20th century Harlock said in the film, his military service was because he was “paying his rent.” Brilliant writing, but very true, as many soldiers in war serve for their countries because that is where those individuals had lived irregardless if you believed in the politics of a particular leader. Harlock never believed in the politics of anyone besides his own, he had to do what he had to to survive in a time of insanity. Very similar is the Slipstream segment from another Matsumoto production, The Cockpit. The true enemy is not those we see on the other side, but those who make both sides fight in the first place.

In the end Arcadia of my Youth is an homage to a great character. No, a great man. A bit long in the tooth due to the length and the melodrama, the film still stands strong as a portrait of a man of intrigue and fierce independence. Compared to the CGI adaptation of more recent release, Captain Harlock (I couldn’t get through ten minutes) this is the real deal of pure Matsumoto brooding emotions. The most Harlock of Harlock? I salute this movie that allows ‘those who follow it, will live free’.

 

#30 : Mobile Suit Gundam

1979 was a breakthrough year. And Mobile Suit Gundam was a breakthrough series, or was it? I see Gundam as a continuation, an evolution and a product of it’s time expressing the then fashionable mecha genre with space opera not unlike Space Battleship Yamato or Star Wars. But where Yamato was emotional and Star Wars was heroic, Gundam was intense passion. And that passion became a franchise bigger than it’s own name, an elephant in the room that now seems to define mecha itself. But nothing compares to an original and for me when you go back  ‘the’ original, it is hard to move ahead to what seems like a copycat for cash.

msg_1The original Gundam may have broke the mold in regards to looking at the large robot as a piece of utilitarian hardware instead of this super hero deus ex machina. But, Gundam did not happen in a bubble or was a happy accident. The mecha genre had been building through the 1970s and the likes of Yoshiyuki Tomino (Gundam’s creator/director) and Tadao Nagahama both pushed story and character development through the later part of the decade. Two shows from 1977 deserve the place as major stepping stones leading to Gundam, Nagahama’s Voltes V and Tomino’s Zambot 3. If you love mecha and consider Gundam to be the true beginning of mecha as serious storytelling, you may have to scratch that surface again.

msg_2Why do I love the original Gundam so? Simple answer… it’s good. Damn good… no great. An epitome of the concept of the large epic space opera. Top it off for it being harder sci-fi as well. Warp drives and far out deep space are out. We are going to stay close to the Earth sphere for this story. Let’s strip out a bit of the super fantastic and make it about political ideals. A corrupt unified government, the Earth Federation, versus an even more corrupt family dictatorship, the Zeon (Jeon?) Empire that can likened to the Godfather or I Claudius. And everyone else is in between and by due fact of geography resides to one of those sides, which is where a majority of our main cast resides. Many aboard a Federation ship called White Base, which houses the Federation’s newest prototype, the RX78-02 Gundam.

msg_3And this tale has one of the greatest rivalry combinations pitting an electronics obsessed otaku kid who wants nothing to do with fighting or war against a blonde elitist pilot who must be in disguise in order to carry out his own personal revenge for the wrong done to his family. Amuro vs. Char, a combo remade too many times in each successive Gundam series that may look good on paper, but never approaches the original. In between both men are two women, Char’s distant sister Sayla Mass, who is close to Amuro, and the woman of mystery who flirts with the hearts of Amuro and Char, Lalah Sune. It is more than a rivalry of who is a better pilot, or for which side of the conflict they fight for. It is personal and full of blind angst that can’t be expressed except between two lost souls needing conflict to justify their existences. As Marshall McLuhan says “Violence as a Quest for Identity.” This is a bonafide soap opera.

msg_4And this is just another robot show? Well at least it was in 1979. Ratings were not too hot, but a certain group of fans caught on, very similar to original Yamato. And both would get a second chance in the theaters. My chance to experience original Gundam came after encounters with first Gundam Wing, which left me a little empty, and the first half of Zeta Gundam, which left me a little confused. I tried original Gundam next and I could not go back. Zeta Gundam made much more sense and I became a die hard fan of the Universal Century timeline with two conditions: first it has to be helmed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and two, it has to feature Amuro and Char. Gundam is not Gundam without these combinations for me similar to the way I see Macross as being the story of Hikaru, Misa and Minmei.

msg_5Of all the hype for Star Wars or the newest Gundam release, the original Mobile Suit Gundam will always stick out to me. Well Zeta Gundam is a love of mine as well, but there would be no Zeta Gundam without the original. Also no Macross as well, so it is to be said if Gundam never came out who would have known where or if my fandom would have occured. If you ask me where do you start with Gundam, I have only one answer. Start at the very beginning with the original Mobile Suit Gundam.

#26 : Future Boy Conan

fbc_1Time to show us what you got to prove Mr. Miyazaki because you are now in charge of a full length TV series. Having worked his way for the last several years as a key animator, episode director, storyboard artist, etc., Hayao Miyazaki finally got his hands on a project where he got to take the drivers seat. The year is 1978 and the production is a loose adaptation of a sci-fi novel, The Incredible Tide by Alexander Key. The end product is a rarity as most know Miyazaki for his film work, but the hard work and passion is still there in this 26 episode adventure. Let us travel to the past to see the future in Future Boy Conan.

fbc_2If there is one thing I got from this series is that it is signature Miyazaki though and though. It looks like his work. It feels like his work. Maybe even smells or tastes like his work? The humor and hijinks are there with elements of drama as well. All of this on a much smaller budget compared to what he has had to work with on the big screen, but then again Miyazaki knows how to make every little detail count. The only big difference is the fact he had a longer time frame to tell this story. If only some of his film projects could have been TV series as well?

fbc_3Two of his later films always crept into my thoughts as I was making my way through the series. It might be me, but I could see later elements that would become Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky. Nausicaa for the fact that we have a sci-fi fantasy adventure based on our planet and not some over the top space opera with robots or aliens and Castle for the adventure of a couple kids trying to restore a sense of order in the world. And of course there is the love of environmentalism and the possible corruptions of mankind when we think we have the technology to conquer Mother Nature. The World Masterpiece Theatre meta series, Nippon Animation’s yearly adaptation of western children’s novels, also comes to my mind. Future Boy Conan is an ‘unofficial’ cousin (muy opinion) due to the fact that this again is based on a book and the production was also done at Nippon.

fbc_4Enough of the details, who is Conan and what is this show about? In a post apocalyptic world after a major war, most of the continents have sank into the sea. On a small island two remaining survivors from an escape group live and thrive. One is our young hero Conan, the other is an older man who he calls grandfather, not sure if he is biologically related, but that is besides the point. One day as Conan, who by the way is an exceptional deep sea diver, was partaking a little revenge on a shark who had been causing trouble for the island discovers a girl on the shoreline. Her name is Lana and thus begins their journey to thwart the corruption of the so-named Industria. Along their journey they meet friends including the goofy Captain Dyce, feral child Jimsy (he loves frogs) and Lana’s long lost grandfather, Dr. Briac Lao to aid them on their quest.

Future Boy Conan is what a great kid’s show should be. It’s enjoyable for the whole family, fun and endearing, which of course is what Miyazaki specializes in. If you love Miyazaki’s work and you have not seen this show… then you have homework.

#25 : Robot Carnival

Robot Carnival is phenomenal… beautiful. Nine short films of pure genius. Much like picking up a package of new crayons, there is a color or two or maybe even nine that appeal to you? I have my favorites for sure, which I will disclose in time. There are many omnibus or collective productions that have come over from Japan, but Robot Carnival to me trumps them all. It is art for art’s sake and for all the directors who were a part of the production I am sure this was the assignment… ok you have about 10–15 minutes to tell a story and include some aspect of robots… have fun!

I have always enjoyed Japan’s view of what a robot is or can be. It is not some machine to be used for comedic entertainment or a scary monster that shows the darker side of technology. A robot can be a great force or nature, a superhero, a vehicle that has be piloted by someone, your best friend, but above all else a robot can also be as human as you or me. After all are we not organic machines that have emotional connection, the same can be said of something that is inorganic. Mixed with the free interpretation of what a robot can be allowed a large range of creative expression shown in Robot Carnival. No two pieces look or feel the same. But the one constant is the great music. Most of the shorts have no dialogue so in a way they are kind of like music videos. And guess who wrote the music for all of these shorts except one of them? That Jo Hisashi guy! Yes, Mr. Jo has a backlog of other soundtracks beyond the Studio Ghibli canon.

rc_1Robot Carnival begins and ends with it’s most well known creator’s vision of the “Robot Carnival” coming into town spreading it’s joy and fun. Katsuhiro Otomo (the Akira guy) shows his usual style by having this gargantuan transport vehicle partying it up as it travels through a barren landscape. The only thing is this party is laying waste and destruction in the wake of the vehicle’s journey (so Otomo). But hey look at music festivals and such after everyone leaves, it’s a major mess and trashed. Rock on the rolling Robot Carnival… ee maybe Carn-evil?

Alright I am going to go over the next grouping that I consider my also rans and then I will go in backwards order of my favorites from there. Not saying these are bad or they may not be a favorite of your’s, it is just that my tastes favor the shorts I will anounce later. Franken’s Gears is darkly funny and a complete rehash of Shelley’s FrankensteinStrange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion is funny and over the top. And Chicken Man and Redneck or Nightmare is one that I often look over and too be honest if I can give it another go I would probably favor it more. Now for my favorite four, the our seasons, fab four, the Beatles… 

Number 4… Presence: If any of the shorts is standard stock and trade shonen action and could have been turned into a longer single release OVA, this is it. Heavy action, driving music and awesome hair. Girl gets kidnapped, hero saves the day and a whole lot of fun… and awesome hair!

rc_2Number 3… Starlight Angel: Two girls having fun at an amusement park and one sees her beau being friendly to her friend (creep deserves a SLAP!) and girl gets mad, loses necklace and a robot in the park tries to return it. Then again some over the top stuff where a big bad robot takes her away and the robot mentioned previously turns into a handsome guy and saves the day… and then they fall in love. I love shojo and the work of Hiroyuke Kitazume and Starlight Angel has both. This one always reminds me of my niece and the times we (and my sister) had fun times at Six Flags and also her love of going to Disney World. To me she is the “Starlight Angel”.

rc_3Number 2… Presence: Loss, regret, can I be loved? This one could be the pièce de résistance of the whole collection for the production quality alone. Not that the other works are a slouch, but the detail work particularly with clothing and motion show a true strength of the old paint and cel technique. The story is about a man who basically is lost in his life. His marriage is dull, his wife seems to be more successful than him and all the usual responsibilities of being a man seems to have drained the life from him. He creates a female robotic companion, but when she comes to life she asserts her independence and again he becomes frustrated. This one is often looked at as an erotic piece, but I have to disagree as it is a much more metaphorical tale of looking to connect in a genuine relationship.

rc_4Number 1… Cloud: Yes, Cloud! But it’s slow and boring and doesn’t do anything. It’s basically a kid walking with minimal background changes and piano or synth music… SHUT IT. Yes it is in a ‘way’, but it is not slow, or boring, or bad, or stupid, it’s BEAUTIFUL! It is perhaps the most relaxing animation I have ever experienced, almost the equivalent of ambient music (Brian Eno anyone?). And the music makes it that more magical and this is the only production that does not feature notes from Jo Hisaishi. That, and I really like the wandering kid. He reminds me of myself as someone who is a daydreamer on a quest. So yeah, Cloud is my numero uno.

Lightning in a bottle. That saying comes to mind when I think of Robot Carnival. It may only happen once and when it does be thankful that you had the opportunity. Besides the older otaku culture who raves over this collection it can be in many ways a gateway drug to introduce Japanese animation to anyone who may not be warm to it. The limited dialog and shorter lengths makes easy digestion. But for those of us who love Robot Carnival, it is almost a religion. I am a proud fan of this one and glad to still keep my old laserdisc release even though we got a DVD release (Discotek, you made a miracle come true) as this is one of the reasons why anime is so much more than just the term anime.

#23 : The Ideon: A Contact/Be Invoked

How often do we get to have a second chance? Have you ever had an idea, a story or a project that was meant for a bigger promise and an even bigger finale? Often times some stories, be it anime or otherwise, get a premature conclusion. This would be the second production in a row where Yoshiyuki Tomino would go back and retell his story again after early cancellation. The first was that little show he did a season previously called Mobile Suit Gundam, though that was more a refinement of the overall story. For Space Runaway Ideon, the ending was completely cut and rushed leaving a universe of questioning what just happened? Two years later the missing pieces and a proper ending would emerge in the theaters as The Ideon: A Contact and The Ideon: Be Invoked.

idem_1For my money Ideon is the ultimate super robot tale, maybe even the most amazing space opera I have experienced as well. Tackling issues of xenophobia and higher cosmic metaphysics around a large cast of characters that go through beyond the sublime. The Ideon robot, for me, is the most terrifying machine… EVER! The Ideon is not so much a robot and the Ide energy is more than spiritual mumbo jumbo. These are acts of nature, an act of whatever name you want to call the deity, or the ultimate power of the universe. Perhaps the embodiment of the universe itself as neither good nor bad, it just is. Perhaps the energies to keep the cycles of life and evolution flowing, continuing and growing. All of this from the origins of a simple toy sponsored show with funky disco derived fashions. Truly a concept beyond it’s physical package.

idem_2First let’s look at A Contact. There is nothing new here if you are already familiar with the TV series. Retelling the first two thirds of the series in a condensed structure makes the movie move quite fast, but I would still recommend viewing it as there is nothing wrong with reviewing the events leading up to Be Invoked. Though for those of you who have yet to see the Ideon TV series I would highly recommend diving into the 39 episodes that were produced as you get a little more background. There is nothing wrong with cutting out the fat so they say, but when you cut into the meat as well it can leave you a little hungry.

idem_3Now for Be Invoked. I really, really, really and truly love this movie and what it did for me. After watching the TV series, then A Contact I would move to Be Invoked and felt a sense of satisfaction that this journey was worth the work. The masterpiece was at the end, much like the final movement of a great symphony. The same thing happened to me with Patlabor. The original OVA, to the first movie and then Patlabor 2: The Movie as a finale was like being bathed in something words can never describe. I have seen the promised land and but it truly moved me. It’s moments like this that make me most happy. Many have said that the Ideon movies are much like the Evangelion movie duo, Death and Rebirth and End of… , but I disagree. True, Gainax was yet again paying tribute by following a formula, but the Eva movies presented an alternate ending kind of like ‘top this if you didn’t like how the TV series ended’ because we gave you the end and you thought it was not enough. But where both franchises are similar in their movie adaptation is the fact that they end BIG!

idem_4But what about Be Invoked makes it so worthwhile personally. Ideon for me is one of if not the darkest sci-fi space opera I have witnessed. Yoshiyuki Tomino would let it all out with the plot revolving around two civilizations who can only fight each other. When characters die, they die and tragically, not unlike Zeta Gundam and Aura Battler Dunbine. And in Ideon everyone pays the final price, kind of like and old saying I heard as how serious is life, you won’t get out of it alive. If this spoils things I am sorry, but Ideon is known as the show where everyone and everything dies. But, from the movie I have gained a new perspective on the concept of death. The floating spirits being reborn to a higher consciousness is a welcome concept. It is not over when the physical organism is done, you continue on although not in the same state of mind or body. That and the wisdom of Alan Watts stating that death is like going to sleep without waking up, or being born is awakening without a memory of falling asleep. So instead of death it is rebirth and as I have often said in the end, we will all die and live happily ever after.

It’s big, it’s bold, it’s one of Sunrise’s best robot franchises ever. Would I ever want to see a remake? Well much like Citizen Kane, how do you top perfection done right the first time? Particularly with that great orchestral score (I love those soundtracks). Oh Ideon, how you rocked my world.

 

 

 

#21 : Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive

Recall the Disney version of Robin Hood. You have your traveling minstrel rooster, saying the animal kingdom has their own version of the story and might I add it is “what really happened in Sherwood Forest” at least according to our journeyman friend. When you often say the three words ‘Love Live Alive’… now is it ‘Live’ like I want to live through this or I saw that awesome band ‘Live’? Sorry… you think of an attempt on Harmony Gold to squeeze a couple more bucks from the Robotech name. But this blogger has another version of this story and this is what really happened. In 1985, same year that Robotech aired ironically, this little OVA was released in Japan. Here is the real story of Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive (thats a long title, eh?). Oh de Lally Golly What a Day!

mlla_1I know the Robotech version emphases ‘Live’ as I want to live through this, but I may be wrong and I don’t care because I read ‘Live’ as I saw that awesome band ‘Live’. And speaking of music, that is the backbone to the OVA as we follow the ‘Lonely Soldier Boy’ Yellow Belmont and what he has been up to after the Inbit invasion war. He still rides his blue Mospeada bike, bends gender better than anyone and performs his music all over. A soldier he may have been, but his heart belongs to fashion and the stage. And it is the career that he deserves as he recalls memories of his recent past. But what about the music as the backbone to this story?

mlla_2Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive is a simple love letter. Did you love the show from a couple years back? The staff at Tatsunoko studios have a little something for you to reminisce. The music mentioned earlier that is either recorded or performed live by Yellow splices between flashbacks of his old companion’s adventures that recall the nostalgia in period correct MTV style. This was not in the Robotech version (grr!), but what of this music anyway? Who actually wrote these songs? How about Joe Hisaishi! All you Studio Ghibli fans should know that name. That’s right, Joe has a back catalog of various musical contributions including this OVA and the original TV series. The grand orchestral sounds of the Ghibli films though are not present. Here we have Joe’s sensibility in the flavors of rock and pop. Midnight Rider is my favorite track followed by Mind Tree in case you have the soundtrack handy.

mlla_3I honestly don’t know how popular Genesis Climber Mospeada was in Japan and really it does not matter. Be it the Robotech or original version of the 25 episode show, I liked it very much for the small rebel bandit unit and morphing motorcycle armor, so badass. But again in my book, it is the characters I love most. Yellow was my favorite character from the show anyway and having a video about him makes Love Live Alive double special. Besides being creatively talented and often the strong voice of reason in the group, Yellow was the first individual in my life that I recognized as gender non-conforming, though I did not know what that concept was for years to come. Again, how this OVA got made about a character from yet another scifi mecha show is beyond me? I should not ask and just accep,t after all it was the 1980s in Japan, all kinds of productions got green lighted.

As a fan of either telling of this show I appreciate this short direct to video one off.  I can’t say much more since it is what it is, a string of music videos spliced between moments of Yellow’s current life told in about a span of an hour. …and like what wise people say about cover songs, nothing beats hearing the original. Live on Yellow and rock on!

#18 : Space Adventure Cobra (TV)

Is that a psycho gun in your left arm or are you just happy to see me? Mr. Cobra… I am always happy to see you. Science fiction and space opera often fall to the hands of being serious and thought provoking. But then you have the other side of the coin where it is all about just plain and simple good time entertainment. Space Adventure Cobra is enjoyment at it’s best and maybe the best at adding ‘Pulp’ elements into science fiction ever?

cobratv1Here is a weird thing I often do. I am not a fan of top 10 lists as really how can you ONLY have 10 qualify as qualifiable. Case in point from time to time I think of a 1980s anime top 10 and when I look at it. 99% of the time I don’t include the Cobra TV series. And then I scratch my head… WHY? Cobra may have been one of the easiest shows I have ever watched and why is that? It’s fun. Really, really, really, really, really… fun. The official meal of watching Cobra should be a big tub of popcorn and a soft drink. This is a simple straight forward and fairly short show that when finished makes me want more, a whole lot more.

cobratv2Cobra is in the spirit of the original Star Wars movie with all the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers action and entertainment. But, it has more… sex appeal, a lot more. Odd how this was a manga that ran in Shonen Jump because this more than a boy’s fantasy. Grown men often lust after wild adventures like Cobra and I would say the ladies do as well. All we need to do is add in some Barbarella and James Bond. And with all this influence we have beautiful women galore, including his android sidekick, and Cobra as a buff stud of a man. This show is just too sexy for it’s own good, but it is all within good taste. After all the sci-fi and sexiness are only two parts to this equation. The other is the comedy. And now I have to pull in Lupin III. Cobra the man is a bit like Lupin; he’s a rogue, a ladies man and a screwy goofball. Maybe even a bigger goofball than Lupin. The most reassuring moment I have had was during an interview with the creator of Cobra, Buichi Terasawa. Looking at our hero Cobra, I saw influence of Steve McQueen and one Jean-Paul Belmondo. And when I heard Terasawa pulled Belmondo as an influence from that interview I jumped off the couch in glee. KNEW IT! He has his nose after all.

cobratv3I mentioned earlier that the original manga ran in Shonen Jump. This adaptation for the most part follows the stories of the printed page. At least that is from what I could tell from the manga that was released by VIZ in comic sized single issues  (I am sure this was an unfinished partial release?). The movie of course takes greater liberty and is almost at time psychedelic, but I reserve that for it’s own posting. For me what makes Cobra really shine is two separate yet similar factors. One is the studio TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsa). They always have done great work and I often felt like they had a polish and color palette that was unrivaled at the time. The other is the director, a long time employee of TMS. Osamu Dezaki’s signature fluidity, triple take shots and pastel freeze frames are all present. The man was a genius and for my money had the best handling for making anime look and feel like manga come to life. If you are in the know, you know what I am saying, but if Dezaki is new to you, check his other work as well (Ashita no Joe, Aim for the Ace, the second half of Rose of Versailles and The Professional: Golgo 13 to name a few).

cobratv4So for Space Adventure Cobra the only thing I have to leave you with is WATCH IT!!! Now or maybe tomorrow, but don’t let this one slide away. I don’t have to wrap this up with an over convoluted message, so I will leave this. Are you ready to have a great time?

And as a personal note to myself… don’t forget to include Cobra on those top 10 lists!