#115 : Project A-Ko

PAK_1Who needs Prozac when instead you can have Project A-Ko instead. You will have zero side effects, except having a big smile on your face and laughing most of the time. Now that’s a prescription we can all agree on. An 80s otaku’s wet dream of self referential parody fit into a sci-fi school comedy that has a plot so big and out of left field that it could only be… well, brilliant. A staple for any collection, the one, the only, the Project A-Ko.

PAK_2If ever an anime encapsulates the decade of the 1980s (well at least up to 1986 at least), it was Project A-Ko. Rising from the ashes of a failed pornographic project (odd start, eh?), Project A-Ko would turn into a self referential love fest for 80s otaku culture. And in case you miss the references to classics such as Macross, Captain Harlock, Fist of the North Star and Creamy Mami just to name a few, you are still in good hands. A joke is a joke and humor knows no boundary, but if you get the reference, you laugh twice as hard 🙂 Also of note is that we have another level of parody. Wait… more? OH YES! Heard of Jackie Chan? He had a movie out at this time known as Project A and this as well crept it’s way into the film in no minor way by of the title itself.

PAK_3The plot of Project A-Ko encapsulates around a triangular relationship. Super-heroic (literally) A-Ko/Eiko is the best friend of perhaps the queen of all crybabies, C-Ko/Shiiko. They laugh, walk to school and go shopping together. Plus, they are in the same class; talk about being tied to the hip! This does not bode well with another fellow classmate, the snobby rich girl B-Ko/Biko. She wants C-Ko for her own and jealousy exudes on to how she can foil the impressive A-Ko with various nefarious plots including using her posse, building mechs and finally making a powered suit that leaves little to the imagination. This suit and the final fight she starts with A-Ko to claim her supremacy becomes the center point of climactic action and in my opinion the cornerstone of this film. Beyond a normal high school cat fight, this altercation between A-Ko and B-Ko is more like a beautiful dance than an all out brawl.

PAK_4And if that wasn’t enough for a plot, let’s also add in some humanoid aliens who are in search of their long lost princess… C-Ko. Bizarre beyond definition is why everyone, and I mean everyone has something for C-Ko? She is one annoying character don’t you think? To each there own I suppose. Loud, immature and lacking in cooking skills (scary bento lunches) and as I said before the chronic crybaby. I am not here to judge, but I must call into question the rationality for begrudged rich girls and alcohol infused alien ship captains. Then again, rationality and this film are distant cousins six times removed.

Outside the plot, there is another memorable piece that is special to Project A-Ko, namely the soundtrack. Not because it fits the movie so well and encapsulates the era, but because it represents rarity back in ye olden days of anime. The soundtrack was outsourced to a couple young musicians, Joey Carbone and Richie Zito, in the Los Angeles area. This Japanese product used American music sensibilities to spice it up it’s presentation. The East met and collaborated with the West on a project decades before it became commonplace to our zeitgeist. Besides the instrumental tracks written and performed by the boys, there were three stand out songs sung by three different ladies. One of whom was none other than Samantha Newark, better known as Jem of Jem and the Holograms. Samantha of course was the speaking voice of Jem, but this movie showcased the fact that her voice acting wasn’t her only talent. She is a diva of a singer as well.

Project A-Ko is simply too much fun. An entertaining movie that never takes itself too seriously. The exception though would be in the drawing department. Project A-Ko is an animation playhouse created by individuals who expressed their joys and talents into a project that may just be the best goofy action movie ever made.

#114 : Space Runaway Ideon

Space. The universe itself is vast and beyond scope. Space opera as a genre is also larger than life, but often you can hold it in the palm of your hand. Themes and characters are bigger than life, but still relatable on some level. What if space opera could represent something even bigger than just off hand spaceship battles, or fun times trekking through the deep vastness of the beautiful great void. Can space opera encompass the function and consequences of the living universe, call it ‘God’ perhaps, depending on the actions you and your civilization make? After finalizing Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise would gives us an answer in 1980 with Space Runaway Ideon.

Ideon_1Space Runaway Ideon may be the most epic and most importantly, the most sublime sci-fi epic in existence within the realm of Japanese animation. Gundam is one thing, Legend of Galactic Heroes is another, but Ideon is it’s own animal. Ideon ventures into unique territory in terms of emotion, intensity and characterization. Known often as a series where everyone and everything dies (Kill ’em all Tomino!), the true meaning of this series is so much more. The death and sacrifices are all consequences and actions of conflict and hatred. This of course is a product of ignorance and xenophobia to an extreme that once the negativity reaches a certain point, the only option left is total and complete destruction.

Ideon_2Even with all this seriousness one must remember that Space Runaway Ideon is first and foremost a mecha show. And what a giant robot indeed (105 meters/344.5 feet for a height), the Ideon is imposing beyond belief and is one of two mechs that literally scare the $h!& out of me (the other being Giant Robo). This is not so much for the overall size or power, but more so on the presence a mecha exudes. It’s about total respect. All this from what looks like a mix of a Gundam’s GM and Gun Cannon added together on a heavy dose of steroids. Literally… as this is a robot that can split a planet in half. This is power beyond power, almost ‘God’ like, hence why I give the Ideon such respect.

Ideon_3Beyond the drama and the Ideon robot itself, Space Runaway Ideon like many of the best mecha shows is about the relationships of it’s cast. And like many Tomino shows, this cast is large. Our story concerns two factions that make contact on a planet in the Andromeda galaxy. Earth based humans like us have begun colonization on the planet which they call Solo. Beyond the colonization, many of the scientists and researchers have discovered several artifacts from a past civilization including three huge truck like vehicles and a buried spaceship. The second faction known as the Buff Clan (yes that is their name) are on a mission to locate the legendary power of the Ide. They come upon this same planet, which they call Logo Dau and eventually both civilizations meet. In response, both sides start a conflict showing the darkest side of human interaction towards someone or something that is unfamiliar, or different.

Sadly Space Runaway Ideon would be become a victim of cancelization, most likely due to a lack of ratings not unlike the previous year’s Mobile Suit Gundam. This left several holes in the plot and a rushed ending. All the build up of 38 episodes led to an ackward final 39th. Yet the story was not over for in 1982 two movies would be released to finish the story properly. The Ideon: A Contact would act as a review and prequel to the awesome and powerful The Ideon: Be Invoked. I highly recommend both movies if you want to get the whole story of Ideon.

Ideon_4To conclude with Space Runaway Ideon, let us examine a quote by Albert Einstein… “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” If that decision in the end is a hostile one, there is nowhere to go except toward ultimate destruction… think about it. This applies not only to anime space opera, but also our lives as well. Similar to, but not the same as Evangelion, Ideon addresses the power of how we sometimes view our environment and ourselves and what happens in regards to how we react toward it. Space Runaway Ideon was and still is a show beyond any experience I have known and I will always count it as one of my all-time favorites.

#113 : California Crisis: Gun Salvo

CCGS_1Dude, this anime is so indie. It smells like vintage vinyl in a dusty record store. SNIFF… Whoo! They sure don’t make stuff like this anymore and to be honest how could you. California Crisis: Gun Salvo is a rare gem of an OVA that looks like nothing else, feels like nothing else and smells like nothing else… Smells? Am I going crazy? (shakes head) Far from it… “I’m California Dreamin’” on this anime.

CCGS_2How does one describe California Crisis? It’s  utopian fantasy set in that fantasyland of California. It’s also a romantic tale about being young and free. And it’s like an art house styled road trip movie with a sci-fi twist where the government is chasing two young protagonists who have a mysterious alien orb of a crystal ball that is the focus of everyone’s desire. “My precious.” All this chasing and mystery over what could just be an ultra shiny bowling ball. STRIKE! Sadly it is not a bowling ball. BOO! … California Crisis, from all descriptions, could fit itself into the realm of a live action film territory. And this could be the case, but it wouldn’t look or feel as good as a well animated film (my opinion). And California Crisis looks really good; I mean really, really good… in a mid 1980s sort of way.

CCGS_3Visually California Crisis stands on it’s own in the pantheon of Japanese animation. I have yet to see any other production look like California Crisis and trust me, I am still looking. The basic line work and character designs are of a typical style for the era… very recognizable here. The use of shading and color variation to produce these tones and the inclusion of flat colors in the background give California Crisis it’s distinctive look. Usually you see simple gradations to skin or cloth, but the approach here is to accentuate the colors and shadows to an extreme. Check out the outlining of the shadow and highlight areas. This reminds me of 1960s Pop Art, inline with say Andy Warhol, or Roy Lichtenstein, mixed with a dash of Psychedelia. California Crisis, is one of those rare examples of anime as art for art’s sake clothed in the ordinary.

CCGS_4The indie vibe of California Crisis can be traced to the studio that created it. A little studio by the name of Unicorn, Studio Unicorn to be precise. Several little startups were around in the 1980s and like many bands of popular music would release a couple projects and perhaps even give backup aid on other productions only to break up before hitting the big time. Studio Unicorn was one of these little studios, or perhaps an artist collective, that tried to make it and go against the odds with the established studio houses. As far as who they were and where they came from, well… those answers are beyond me. But I am than thankful for their contribution to the Japanese animation continuum.

Released in 1986 amongst a wealth of one-off OVA titles including M.D. Geist (yes I know a sequel came out a decade later), The Humanoid and Wanna-Be’sCalifornia Crisis stands out like a red headed step child. It looks different, it feels different and no matter what makes California Crisis different, I love it just the same. Being unique and individual always makes one special.

#112 : The Transformers: Scramble City

TFSC_1Now if that wasn’t a blatant toy commercial wrapped into the guise of an OVA, then I don’t know what is. Truth be told, I don’t mind because this OVA is for the original G1 Transformers. I grew up a fan of the transforming robot sci-fi epic and I am still loyal to ye olden tales of The Transformers (Autobot fan for life!). Yet this one off half hour entry was not on my radar screen back in the day. I had no idea it even existed, but as years passed I kept hearing about a story by the name of The Transformers: Scramble City. What makes this entry into the G1 saga so unique?

TFSC_2It is the year 1986, Hasbro In the west and Takara in Japan would unveil a new line of The Transformers for the upcoming year. The question would be how to promote this line prior to the third season of The Transformers cartoon (by the way if would be the second full season in Japan)? In America a huge blockbuster of a theatrical film was in the works and would be released in the summer. This film would not make it’s way to Japan until 1989, well past the lifespan of the first G1 timeline. Ironic since the film is crucial to the overall epic story of The Transformers. Yet Japan had another way to introduce the 1986 line. It would be a one shot direct to video release since the ever growing OVA market was blossoming.

The Transformers in Japan up to that point was only adapted material from America. The first two seasons were combined into the first series to be shown in Japan. Ironic how an original Japanese toyline would go to America, get adapted for that market and then return to it’s homeland with a different name (Diaclone and Microchange) to enjoy even greater success. Everything related to The Transformers in the realm of animation up to that point was western in origin, until Scramble CityThe Transformers are often categorized as anime, but the original G1 98 episode show technically is not. Yet Scamble City does count as anime since it was produced for the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM… any car enthusiasts out there?).

TFSC_3The story begins as a retelling of the beginning of the original TV series. Scenes from the first couple of episodes fly by into more contemporary scenes from what would be the second season. Optimus Prime and the Autobots are at a stalemate against Megatron and the Decepticons, a new strategy is needed. Now begins the original material where we see the Autobots building a large city type fortress. Now we meet a new character, Ultra Magnus, who is in charge of the construction. In essence this fortress is yet another character, remember Metroplex? Who knew that these two characters where on the scene before the plot of the movie?

TFSC_4Yet the construction of Metroplex is not the only main feature. The concept of how the toys play is also brought into the fore by the introduction to many of the famous gestalt combiners that include one robot as the body, two for arms and two for legs. A battle ensues near the end of the OVA (no surprise…) and one by one the Aerialbots, Stunticons, Protectobots and Combaticons become Superion, Menasor, Defensor and Bruticus. Sometimes certain members switched from arms to legs and at other times combined with different teams. Superion found that out the hard way! The OVA calls this ‘Scramble Power’, which is nice because we never had any cool naming conventions for the combining capabilities here in the west.

The Transformers: Scramble City was and still is a good little oddity in the G1 universe and is perhaps the most honest piece ever created for The Transformers. Just a simple toy commercial, but a very creative and longish toy commercial. Or perhaps it was a long lost episode for the second season here in America? We may never know…

#111 : Space Pirate Captain Harlock

SPCH_1Let me tell you about about a man by the name of Harlock. “Now thats a name I have not heard in a long time, a long time,”… ok, the truth is that it may have been only five minutes because this man, this character, this legend is so ingrained into my fandom that I sometimes wonder what would I be without the presence of Captain Harlock. A creation of one of my favorite manga heroes, Leiji Matsumoto, Harlock is in many ways the man I would like to become. And while there have been a multitude of instances that Harlock has been brought into the zeitgeist of the present, the original TV series of 1978 stands as a personal Bible and one of my favorite series of all time.

SPCH_2Space Pirate Captain Harlock was and still is a show that I hold near and dear to my heart. Harlock’s premise is quite interesting as our hero, Harlock, is very just and high on being a moralist of his own convictions and yet, a villain to the establishment. Many times Harlock reminds me of Alan Watts take on the outsider (Youtube link) as Harlock is not productive to what is dictated by society. He lives by his own rules and pirates because he sees the corruption and waste in the downfall that is called humanity. The human race would rather play and waste their time and resources for their own self indulgent pleasures, while taking for granted the beauty of their environment. Plus, it does not help that an alien invasion of plant like female agents known as the Mazone (Amazon variation?) are also on the scene. Yet it is Harlock in the end who saves the Earth and humanity even though he has been forsaken and branded as a criminal. How ironic?

SPCH_3While our eyed patched hero is the star of the show, it is the rest of his crew of 42 (just who is this mysterious 42nd crew member?) that give life to this sci-fi epic. It seems that everyone on the ship Arcadia has a story. Usually it’s heartbreaking, or fated, but the only place, the only solace that this group of 42 has found is with each other aboard Harlock’s beloved Arcadia. All ages, all circumstances and all walks of life are welcome to join the ship so long as you help in your own way at the appropriate time. Seems fair and easy, but it is a hard road because in the end you end up finding out more of who you really are.

I want to spend a moment more on Harlock as a character; in particular his loyalty. I have mentioned his loyalty to the Earth, but why does he fight for a planet and it’s people that refuse to welcome him? The answer lies in the strong loyalty to his deceased best friend, the architect of his ship and the best sidekick ever (maybe?), Tochiro Oyama. Harlock is guardian to Tochiro’s only daughter Maya and she still resides on the Earth. She represents the future of humanity and Harlock protects her and the Earth like they were his own children because Harlock could not forgive himself if he ever took back his loyalty and promises to his best friend. Again, how can this man be branded a criminal? Maybe they are jealous of his awesome hair (I know I am!).

SPCH_4Visually Space Pirate Captain Harlock looks the era it was created in, which is all analog and extra stylish… awesome indeed. Rintaro, Captain Harlock’s director, is known for a visual approach that exudes drama and intensity. Many of his works often get lost in the visual eye candy of each scene; the image become the focus more than the story (from my experiences with his work). This may be the case since most of his better known projects are auteur films, but Space Pirate Captain Harlock is a longer run TV series (and a job for Toei where he is not in complete control), so this provides room for story to exist with the impressive visual narrative. Rintaro’s arthouse style exponentiates the emotional space opera brilliance of Leiji Matsumoto. Watch in particular the high contrast scenes that turn a simple moment into a great happening such as the murder of Professor Daiba as an example.

As long as a Jolly Roger waves aboard that beautiful ship named Arcadia, I know I can and will live free, question authority and search for that quiet spot in myself to find my own piece of personal authenticity. This story, while set in the future of 2978, with the corruption and downfall of man, echoes of truth today. After all what is the difference between 1978, 2018, or 2978? It is all the present moment, just a different cycle. Are we in the end being true to ourselves, our environment, and/or our humanity?

Space Pirate Captain Harlock, what a man and what a show 🙂 Gohrum!

#110 : Cool Cool Bye

CCB_1Tomonori Kogawa; can I see a show of hands who enjoys this man’s character designs and artwork? Or perhaps, how many of you know of this man at all? If not I hold nothing against you since he is not a well known name in the vain of say Miyazaki, Yoshitaka Amano or Gundam’s Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Kogawa was a staple of early 1980s mecha shows; ever see Southern Cross (Robotech’s Masters saga), Ideon, Dunbine, Xabungle, L-Gaim, or even Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight (OH! ODINE!!!!). If you are familiar with these productions then you are framiliar with Kogawa’s particular art style, but he also worked on a couple smaller pet projects as well. One is called Greed, but let’s look at one called Cool Cool Bye for this entry.

CCB_2Cool Cool Bye. Cool Cool Bye. What does this title mean? I don’t know. Sometimes it makes me think of something that a baby would say… like Goo Goo Gah. Not saying that this OVA is for infantile intelligence (it’s not OK), but there is a fun almost child like simplicity to the art style, the dynamics of the motion and the spastic comedy which makes me think of more pompous, or perhaps ‘fancy’ terms like say surrealism, or even dada… oh great now this guy is going into early 20th century fine art… ! …make art, not war people. Cool Cool Bye is for me, kind of like the leftovers of Xabungle and Dunbine (we even have the cute fairy girl archetype again) mixed with something like Birth, or from a more modern eye, Gurren Lagann. This is the basic foundation of Cool Cool Bye and to top it off, this OVA is a manageable half hour of duration.

CCB_3Now since this is only an approximate 25 to 30 minute run, don’t expect something super deep and life changing. Giggles, laughs and ridiculousness is all that is required; popcorn can be optional. We have a basic plot here… two boys who are supposed warriors from a particular tribe are helping a little village get rid of a gigantic mecha known as the Tanguin, or Penguin (the fansub had both, perhaps it may be down to a regional dialect between the characters?) that is stealing all the women for some particular reason. And with a lack of a female population that means no continuation of future generations. Who or what would be stealing all the women… perhaps some dirty old man? AND I JUST SPOILED THE ENDING! Except I forgot to mention that the boys need to fill their stomachs first before any shenanigans can begin. Silly heroes always need to gorge food in anime, at least they won’t go into battle hungry, ya know?

CCB_4And what about the little fairy girl? At first I was like hey it’s Cham/Chum Huau from Dunbine (and whatever her name was in L-Gaim, please don’t make me revisit L-Gaim) in for a little cameo. But no, the little fairy girl transforms and changes into the pretty ‘it’ girl and very funny comic relief towards our duo of heroes. She essentially lays down the rules so to speak (don’t be no naughty boys), but also acts as the deus ex machina or McGuffin device to a pivotal moment near the end. In the ever constant of comedy and hijinks we get a singular moment of sentimentality… nice touch!

While not the most well known OVA, and perhaps there is a reason for this, Cool Cool Bye is a fun oddity of rarity. Not so much a diamond in the rough… more like a happy accident, but one that I was satisfied with. If you don’t enjoy the plot for any reason, just put Cool Cool Bye on mute and enjoy the scenery so to speak (because pretty pictures in the background makes the world a better place!), or make up another script if you are so inclined. For me though, I liked it!

#109 : The Transformers: The Movie

TF_movie_1Years before maturity and discovering talented filmmakers in the line of Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman, there was the seven, or perhaps eight year old version of me that was in love with what I considered… The Greatest Movie Ever Made! The Transformers was the hottest cartoon on TV and one of the hottest toys of the mid 1980s, but all of this fails in comparison to the awe, wonder and larger than life spectacle of the generically named The Transformers: The Movie. How do I feel about this movie after thirty plus years of watching… well, it’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it is still an important stepping stone and a fun experience.

TF_movie_2No matter what anyone says about The Transformers: The Movie, I admit the plot is cheesy, the characterization is generic and you can even say that it was a cheap ploy to dump the previous year’s line from toy shelves. But… you can’t deny that this film is gorgeous to look at. Vibrant colors, fluid motion and excellent drawing exudes quality. Right? Watch that introduction again with Unicron attacking the planet and tell me what you think. The TV show looked pretty good, but this film is, visually, a masterpiece. Of course it was animated at Toei and funded by Hasbro, so that is a good combination. In fact for the release date of 1986, it was a nicer looking film than the Fist of the North Star film… come on Toei, what about the local community? I suppose the American dollars from Hasbro helped… most likely.

TF_movie_3I see no reason in going over the plot as it is the simple Autobots vs. Decepticons fare, except with a new cast of characters voiced by many a famous name at the time. Does anyone remember Judd Nelson or Robert Stack? But the standout moments for me include Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime’s ascension to Autobot leadership, Megatron’s metamorphosis into Galvatron (so well animated), the introduction of the Quintessons and “Bah weep granah weep nini bong.” “Don’t worry they’ll reciprocate.” Of course the big issue of this movie was the fact that characters died… brutally. Why is is that here in the west we have to hide death and impermanence from children? After all, we would be a greater society if we wouldn’t hide this stuff under the rug. STOP TELLING LIES TO CHILDREN!

TF_movie_4Now did I cry over Optimus Prime’s death? Not that I remember, but I did feel loss. I even then accepted the fact that the great leader had to sacrifice for a newer generation. I for one have nothing against Hot Rod for jumping in to help out, and some fans don’t like Roddy, but I really do like the kid… one of my all time favorite Transformers in fact (I see a bit of me in him). Optimus would have the most heroic of heroic deaths and went out with honesty and integrity, unlike his some of his fellow Autobots like Ironhide, who groveled for mercy, or Prowl, who belted out smoke and fire (yowzers). Yet nothing compares to the death of the king of backstabbers, Starscream. Perhaps one of the best characters ever in The Transformers, Starscream would get his just desserts in perhaps the most violent shooting I have ever witnessed. “Will anyone else attempt to fill his shoes?”

What I find ironic about this movie and even to a small extent the original G1 totality, is how much it is not recognized in the general popular culture. The Transformers are now known the world over in the guise of various re-imaginations. Every generation has ‘their’ show or movie to call ‘their’ own. But what of the original source material? Much like other subjects, you can never really know the whole truth unless you go all the way back to the beginning. Perhaps I am just settled in my ways as an old G1 fan. Still with any franchise or knowledge for that matter, you have to dig into the past to find true perspective in anything.

TF_movie_5In the end I have seen The Transformers: The Movie more times than I care to count. I am sure I will watch it again, but due to ingrained repetitions, I can recite the entire film blindfolded and with plugged ears… maybe. It is generic, slightly dated and fodder for a lot of nostalgia for some of us, but in the end again… it is a great film to look at. Hand drawn animation at one of it’s finest hours and a fun flick to share with friends, some popcorn and maybe even show a tear at times. It was the cornerstone of my childhood and a long lasting influence that exists into the present. The Transformers: The Movie still has ‘the touch‘ 🙂

“Till All Are One”