#204 : Cipher

Wow, an anime that opens with a Phil Collins song! Against All Odds to be exact, except it’s not Phil’s singing voice, perhaps due to licensing. It really sets the mood during the opening credits and wouldn’t you know it, it closes the film too. Here we have an odd OVA of a shojo manga adaptation that combines 80s era MTV styled music videos, off the cuff interviews and promotional commercials. Interesting and would you believe it’s in English too. What? Like a dub? No no, that was the original audio track. Interesting. All of this combined becomes an exploration into the lives of twin boys that focus into one identity. This was Cipher.

Before diving into Cipher the Video, the proper name for this anime, I had to look into the definition of cipher itself. Basic dictionary definitions point to a secret code and even the number zero. How about a cipher in terms of a person, an individual? I found this description at Quick and Dirty Tips that spoke to me immediately…

A cipher can also be a person, often a fictional character, who is a blank slate—and that’s how I used the word when talking with my husband. A cipher has so little personality—is such a nothing—that the readers or viewers can project their own ideas and values onto the character.

… now we are onto something. I think we can look into the anime now.

Cipher_1What I found interesting about Cipher was how shallow and fake everything appeared. And yet you find a depth within this void of plasticity, which sounds ironic, but then again view this OVA like an art exhibit more so than a piece of entertainment. Everything looks polished, perfect, well dressed and it all comes out very dull and preprogrammed. Listen to the voice acting in particular, is it badly acted or oddly phrased? The English language dialogue is an odd choice, but the story is set in New York, so the creators wanted to be authentic to the native vernacular. And not just the dialogue, even the setting was drawn from scouted photography of New York City for authenticity. Obsession with American culture cannot be questioned as all this is outlined in a documentary that follow the main feature OVA.

Cipher_2Our characters don’t have much back story in the anime and one will have to reference the manga, or some basic research to find out who these twins of Cipher are. Jake and Roy Rang are former child stars who exude blond teenage heartthrob eye candy that lead not a double life, but a life single life in two bodies. A persona of Siva, and at one point see a statue of the Hindu god Shiva, is played by both boys and this role serves as an actor and student in greater society. Yet outside this role, who are these boys? While there is a lot of fun and happiness portrayed, I return back to that opening segment which feels a little lonely and sad. Beyond the man made role, are these boys their own individual, or only a manufactured personality that is split into two? There is often a close bond between twins where we can’t tell one from the other and for one female friend this is the case as she is the only one who seems to know the truth of Siva. Or, is she their girlfriend?

Cipher_3Often who we portray in public may vary greatly from our genuine selves. I question if we are all a cipher to one degree or another? Look at social media, or TV and movies and even anime as well, it’s all a camera angle behind a distorted reality. Some may find Cipher as a bland 80s stream of music plastered on top of unrelated events. Yet I see this as an exploration of identity, or maybe our lack of a genuine sense of self in a world that is mostly unreal. This anime may have been more of a promotion for the manga than an actual story in and of itself, but it spoke to me in a profound fashion. I think the cover of the Phil Collins song Against All Odds says it all…

How can I just let you walk away, just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here taking every breath with you, ooh
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me,
When all I can do is watch you leave
Cause we’ve shared the laughter and the pain and even shared the tears
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now, oh there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothing left here to remind me,
Just the memory of your face
Ooh take a look at me now, well there’s just an empty space
And you coming back to me is against the odds and that’s what I’ve got to face

I wish I could just make you turn around,
Turn around and see me cry
There’s so much I need to say to you,
So many reasons why
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now, well there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothing left here to remind me, just the memory of your face
Now take a look at me now, cause there’s just an empty space

But to wait for you, is all I can do and that’s what I’ve got to face
Take a good look at me now, cause I’ll still be standing here
And you coming back to me is against all odds
It’s the chance I’ve gotta take

Take a look at me now

#203 : Cherry no Manma

Maybe someone can fill me in and my beautiful audience with a bit of trivia… what is the shortest anime ever made? Or maybe a more precise question is what is the shortest OVA title ever made? I can throw a possibility into the ring with this entry, Cherry no Manma, as this one off was only ten minutes long. 10 MINUTES! And that includes the opening and closing credits, so with the law of averages in play this anime is more like eight minutes long. That’s like… uh… well… I’m not expecting much out of this one.

CnM_1Based on the manga of the same name, Cherry no Manma at only ten minutes, got to reintegrate that again, is I hope a very condensed version of the overall plot line. Because if it isn’t… shaking my head. Apparently a young girl, Kanoko, lives with what other sources have said are two housemaids. Both of whom are boys and since it is a shojo comedy verging on the romantic, they are both on the scale of being handsome. One who has a ponytail, Yuzuru, seems to be very much the gentleman and concerned with our lady’s welfare to the point of being a brown noser. Then there is Yuki, who is more of a slacker, has short hair and likes to go into Kanoko’s bedroom to stare at her panties when they are being hung out to dry after washing. What!? Ok dude, if you like to wear them that’s cool (I doubt this is this case), but staring at and admiring her underwear… well we all need a hobby.

CnM_2Kanoko catches Yuki in the act and calls him the ever popular term, ecchi, a pervert! Yuki feels odd, well duh. Then Kanoko puts all her underwear away to find a pair missing. She then blames Yuki and no, he did not take them. Wait a minute, this whole plot, that’s only ten minutes, is centered around missing panties? “Oh Lordy, trouble so hard.” I know this is a quasi comical thing, but… shaking my head. Cherry no Manma is like that one episode of That ’70s Show, “Eric’s Panties”, which was funny, or maybe a weird inverse of the old comedy Three’s Company, except Cherry no Manma… shaking my head.

CnM_3Shake no more my child as ten minutes have passed; you survived. This is far from the worst anime ever made, very, very far, and in its own way is comical, but really… missing panties. I only hope the manga has more to offer… and often the case it usually does, but I prefer animation. Now for the kicker, the punchline… once Kanoko finds her missing panties she writes an apology on them and hangs them up for Yuki to keep in his room. Now he can say he has his own panties. And guess what folks? I saved you ten minutes to watch something else. You can yhank me later 😉 But then again this is worth a watch at least once.

#195 : Bride of Deimos

Shojo + horror, or occult subject matter = yes indeed in my book. Be it CLAMP’s early work like Tokyo Babylon, or X, or 80s titles that range from the comedic, Tokimeki Tonight, or the dramatic, Vampire Princess Miyu, I enjoyed them all. Add to that the skills of Studio Madhouse and the director Rintaro with his use of color and imagery and I become even more tempted. Lastly, discovering a previously unknown one off OVA is always welcome. Three strikes and I am not far from out, but totality in… or perhaps I should say win. Let me introduce you to The Bride of Deimos.

BoD_1The underworld… a beautiful woman hangs while she slowly rots away tied to what appears to be a binding of thorns. Reminds me of the opening of The Rose of Versailles where Oscar was bound up just the same, though not in the manner of being crucified. Calling out to her lover Deimos, Venus desperately requires a new body to sustain her immortality. The ever androgynous bishonen figure of Deimos knows all to well this process as he has been through this many times before. And like any hunter, he works on his next prey, a high school girl named Minako Ifu, who is the physical reincarnation of Venus. Minako meanwhile has a friend who is currently into botany and both have an interest in the orchids at a local convention. Her friend soon visits one of the contestants homes who bloomed a very beautiful blue orchid to find out how they grow such beautiful flowers. Ever worried, Minako treks towards this home to find out what secrets are being kept all to the chagrin of Deimos.

BoD_2Reminiscent of the myth of Persephone where a young maiden is dragged down by the prince of darkness and the underworld, Hades, Bride of Deimos is filled with Greco-Roman re-interpreted myth. Deimos himself was the god of dread, a brother of Phobos, fear. Sounds very uplifting? This relationship of tempting the innocent girl to go down the darker path is often seen in many cultures, but Persephone‘s is the most familiar from my experience. Outwitting the Devil, temptation, or even death is very much true in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, where a knight is in constant struggle to stay one step ahead of Death himself by playing against the black angel in a game of chess. Minako is always outwitting Deimos, refusing his charms and even advice when he means well to keep her safe. Much like a guardian angel, Deimos is always on watch towards Minako and will save her every time she is in danger.

BoD_3Rintaros work always seems to bring controversy. He often puts so much effort into the visual storytelling that the plot often gets lost. In the bold colors, drastic lighting and occasional psychedelic madness that he is known for, Rintaro creates a mood that is often times closer to fine art than entertainment. His style is an acquired taste and works well with my palette, but I know others often mock his work. Something looked just right the moment I started Bride of Deimos and finding his name along with Studio Madhouse definitely rung out many ah-ha moments. Of course this was why this was an attractive anime for me! Added to the darker occult subject matter made this an even more tempting found prize. So many wonders and interesting material from the shojo end of the spectrum exist in plenty that I never knew before.

Even though many times we fear the dark, or the darker aspects of life, it is from those moments we start anew. Like a new moon in the middle of the night, light will return again for both the moons phase and the sky. Deimos may symbolize dread, but there is always a flip side to the so called negative we often label on quick judgement. Take a walk on the wild side if you will because every one deep down loves a bad boy who has a good heart. Could you be the next Bride of Deimos?

#194 : Okubyo na Venus

Pop idols are plentiful in terms of anime. Creamy Mami, Lynn Minmei (Macross) and Eve Tokimatsuri (Megazone 23) are three that come to my mind from the 1980s and depending on the audience are mostly, fairly well known names. Then there was Yumiko Kirita… now that is a name one does not hear everyday. Simply put she is a lost one hit wonder of sorts for her only appearance was in an obscure OVA from 1986, Okubyo no Venus.

OnV_1This time round the explanation with be quite short for Okubyo na Venus (sometimes spelled Okubyou na Venus) simply put because this OVA is only about 20 minutes in length. Very short and easy to digest. Yumiko Kirita was apparently one of the many pop idols in anime during the 1980s who had only a few hit songs. This OVA is the only document we have left of her career as far as I know. Four songs cover the entirety of this compilation of sorts (one gets repeated at the end by the way) that is styled after the then current MTV music videos of the time. Maybe this is her lone surviving EPK (electronic press kit)?

OnV_2Dialog is absent throughout the production and each of the segments are small individual statements where only the songs, as well as the visuals, tell the story. This vaguely reminds me of Robot Carnival, though Robot Carnival was much larger in scale and concept, a true work of art. I have seen the anime Cipher also linked to Okubyo na Venus in terms of a similar style, need to check this one out eventually (update… I have seen it!). So then, these are the segments in a nutshell, hope this does not spoil things: the first follows a day in Yumiko’s life of singing, shopping and practicing; the second pays many an homage to classic movies and characters; the third is a slower more artsy collection of still shots and relaxed moments over a ballad and the final is a scene from a concert of hers.

OnV_3Okubyo na Venus is not your usual 1980s OVA. While the facade of idol signer Yumiko Kirita is flashed everywhere, there is after all a flesh and blood human being who brought her singing voice to life that also needs recognition. Her name is Maiko Okamoto and she as well needs to be recognized in this posting. Without her singing ability and the animation talents of those involved, this little oddity of an OVA production would have never seen the light of day. A simple, charming title, Okubyo na Venus without question belongs with the pantheon of our more usual 80s anime favorites. I shall now reserve a spot on the shelf just for you!

Special : Lady Oscar

How often do we see live action adaptations of the anime we love? Of more recent there have been many a handful from the studios of Hollywood and depending on your fandom, you see these movies in whatever light you hold to the original. Some like to see anime turned into “real” people and some don’t… again depending on your fandom. Yet how interesting would it be to see a live action re-interpretation of a beloved classic during that anime’s original run when it was current in the zeitgeist. Enter 1979… the year Riyoko Ikeda’s manga of Rose of Versailles would become a full blown animated television series and… and, a live action motion picture by the name of Lady Oscar.

LO_1Twice I have talked about The Rose of Versailles here at CAM (original entry, updated entry), so I will not delve very deep into the story. Without question one of the landmark anime of the 1970s, The Rose of Versailles is for me and many others a personal favorite. A story of passion, duty, humanity, freedom, love and gender identity all wrapped up under the guise of late 18th century France, the time of the French Revolution. A radical time and a dangerous one at that, a powder keg of the clash between old and new. I love The Rose of Versailles and respect Oscar François de Jarjayes as one of my favorite characters of all time. When I learned there was a live action film adaptation, I was keenly interested.

LO_2Financed by Japan and directed by famed French director Jacques Demy, ironically the film’s native dub would be in English. Interesting and convenient for those of us who speak English as our native tongue, but perhaps French may have been more appropriate? English of course allows for more international distribution as I am sure this film was made more for an overseas audience than just Japan alone, my hypothesis. And how does it fair as a film? It’s good, slightly above average, but nothing like the tv series. Accept no substitute when comparing 40 half hours of content to only two hours. Anime is often more colorful and The Rose of Versailles does show itself with many grand colors, but it is never off the wall. Lady Oscar is more muted, which makes sense as this is not animation. Props for the costume designs though!

LO_3Besides the original TV series of The Rose of Versailles, I also think of another contemporary film to Lady Oscar, which told a story in a similar time frame of the late 18th century, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. Honestly I kept thinking why couldn’t Lady Oscar look and feel more like Barry Lyndon? I am sure Lady Oscar’s budget was nothing close to Barry Lyndon’s. Stanley Kubrick’s style for lighting, intensity and photography are also his own, a true auteur, and I am sure Jacques Demy had to play the part of following the boss’ orders to the best of what he was given. My ideal vision for a filmed version of The Rose of Versailles would be more Barry Lyndon than Lady Oscar, but I have to accept what is. Instead of a grand cinematic experience, Lady Oscar feels more like a TV special, but it does a good job with what it had to do. I can’t be judgmental, or hard on the things in life I cannot control.

LO_4Lady Oscar is not a bad film, or a great film, it is just a good movie to enjoy and try out at your own leisure. While live action adaptations are often tempting, they never seem to hold a candle to the original TV series, or even the manga if that is your preference. Lady Oscar is a good supplementary entry on your watch list, but should never be a full blown substitute to the grandeur of the original The Rose of Versailles TV series. Yet it is a treat that this film was even made, but when it comes to live action adaptations, I prefer to keep them as their original form. Let cartoons, be cartoons and anime, anime (which to me is saying the same thing twice,) because it is perhaps one of the best story telling mediums ever created.

#25f : Robot Carnival : Starlight Angel

This is one of nine entries that take an in depth look into each of the segments of the 1987 anime compilation Robot Carnival. For the original entry, click here.

RCf_1Hey!! You know what Robot Carnival needs? A simple little shojo story. And we have it with Hiroyuki Kitazume’s Starlight Angel. One of the more popular and familiar segments, Starlight Angel brings a breath of fresh air with a lighter, more innocent story. In a Disney World like theme park (Robot World?) two girls are having a good old time one evening… seeing the sights, riding rides, having a snack and enjoying a goofy photo opportunity or two. In the process of all the fun, she drops a star shaped pendant, which is found by a robot who works at the park. Comically he does his best to return it to her.

As the main girl continues to run all throughout the park, the robot mentioned earlier continues chase. As best as he can he shows kindness in the face of her heartbreak and confusion. Then out of nowhere we get a segment with a fight featuring a giant robot… now where did that come from? The original robot fights and protects the girl as the metal armor falls off to revealing a young man… PLOT TWIST! Who would have known that this robot is her true shining knight in armor instead of that blonde guy who showed up earlier with the toothy grin? Yeah, I couldn’t trust him either! The sweetness of Starlight Angel is what draws us back as fans and evens out most of the other segments that are either very serious, darker in humor, or just abstract in concept. If one needs to start with any of the segments, Starlight Angel is the most accessible and inviting to anyone no matter your background.

Robot Carnival entry index:

    1. Opening
    2. Franken’s Gears
    3. Deprive
    4. Presence
    5. Starlight Angel
    6. Cloud
    7. Strange Tales of Meiji Machine Culture: Westerner’s Invasion
    8. Chicken Man and Red Neck
    9. Ending

#136 : Alpen Rose

Spinning around with my bare feet on the grass at a park I begin to sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of… Alpen Rose. Alpen Rose. Those red flowers. These cross shackles that hold me…” … Love and romance, adventure and suspense, mystery and amnesia and being on the run from an obsessed bishonen Count and Nazis during the eve of WWII… are you excited yet? Pack your bags because you are scheduled for a tour of Switzerland, Austria and France circa 1939/1940. All aboard!

AR_1Based off a manga and debuting on television in 1985, Honoo no Alpenrose first came into my life through a condensed two episode OVA compilation released in 1986. If only I could see  the original 20 episode TV series? I like a non-abridged version whenever possible. Thankfully this version fell into my lap and became a recent priority. So what exactly is Alpen Rose? To begin the title refers to two specific references. The first is a flower that grows in the Alps region. During winter snows and freezing temperatures this flower never loses it’s will to live and stays in full bloom. Impressive! Alpen Rose is also the title of an important piece of music toward the plot of the series. An anthem to be precise! A subtle and tender song speaking out against Nazi oppression. A song to rise up and believe in life and freedom… very fitting to be named after a flower that represents choosing life and beauty in the face of strife and hardship.

AR_2We begin after a plane crash in the heart of Switzerland. A young girl with her pet parrot returns to consciousness unsure of who she is. She is soon met by a boy her age, Lundi, who gives her the name Jeudi and helps her start a new life. By the way the parrot is named Printemps by the way (All this French! I like it!) A few years pass, Jeudi is now a teenager and is working as a nurse’s aide when she is reunited with her beloved Lundi. Then the chase begins when both characters encounter a bishonen count who has loose ties to the German Nazi’s and has an obsession with Jeudi. She is totally underage… creepy! Along the way Jeudi and Lundi meet many new friends, but the most important would become a third party, an young anti-Nazi composer prodigy, Leonhardt/Leon, perhaps my favorite character (has to be those locks of hair!). This is turning into a love quartet. OK Jeudi for whom does your heart desire for?

AR_3Alpen Rose is one of those titles where I can’t help but love, yet I do have mixed feelings. Often times an anime series starts off with a great plot line and resolves at around the half way mark. The show continues on, but it just doesn’t feel the same. Jeudi’s journey to rediscover her past identity, find her parents and solve the riddle of why the song Alpen Rose has special significance made the first half a nail biter. From there it became a prelude towards the war between the Allies and the Axis. Our cast of characters became  part of the bigger zeitgeist of the moment. Yet the second half did reveal some new twists and discoveries which provided interest. The show is solid and even paced throughout, but the ending was a little rushed… now begins WWII… the end. Hey now!

AR_4Many big names are tied with the production of Alpen Rose. Tatsunoko was the studio responsible for bringing the show to life… and they have a great track record! The music was composed by Joe Hisaishi, who would go onto super stardom scoring films for Hayao Miyazaki. In fact he already did Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind the previous year! Often times when encountering shojo material I often run into magical girl shows and high school romantic comedies. Both genres have merit, but I have a soft spot for the historic romantic drama. Something a little more serious with an element of old classic style. Alpen Rose fills these qualifications fantastically and I am so thankful I finally got to see the entire TV series. I will watch this one again!