#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_1You 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!

 

#132 : Vampire Princess Miyu

I love the dark! It’s not scary at all. Many consider it like a tomb, the idea of death and nothingness. I say perhaps consider the dark more akin to the womb as a place of safety, that is also undefinable. Many times there are things that go bump in the night, or the dark, and they are not so much there to scare you, but instead to cast aside all those oddities (shinma) that bring out panic and fright and return them to where they belong. I know of one such entity, a girl who is destined to aid mankind from all the shinma and evils of the world. Yet she also is of the shinma as she is herself a vampire, care to be kissed? Her name is Miyu, better known as Vampire Princess Miyu.

VPM_1More often then not, much of the original OVA market seemed to have a heavier emphasis towards a masculine audience, in particular for those of us who were around in the VHS days of the 1990s in the west. Too much one sided marketing… I am glad times have changed. Shojo OVAs did of course exist and many found there way over early on, you just didn’t know it at the time. Vampire Princess Miyu presents much with action and gothic horror elements and has direction and character designs from one Toshihiro Hirano (I love his designs!). That alone could sell the show to a particular audience, but it is balanced with beautiful characters, relationship dynamics and inner psychological struggles. And lots of dark!

VPM_2I often think off Vampire Hunter D, or even early CLAMP titles like Tokyo Babylon and X (which are kind of the same story?) when I reflect on Vampire Princess Miyu. Much of shojo, but not always, has a certain color pop and often gets stereotypically pastel shades to the maximum. Vampire Princess Miyu is darker, more subdued with an emphasis on maybe one particular color… RED! While this may break the usual gender enforced stereotypes, going dark actually brings an anime like Vampire Princess Miyu into the realm of the divine feminine; the yin of yin and yang. The black, the infinite, intuitive, nocturnal, the total unknown and most importantly the source of everything that is actually nothing. Miyu can be likened to the dark goddess archetype.

VPM_3Miyu is also a bit of an outcast who has to hunt her own kind. This is the parallel I draw to Vampire Hunter D. Her only friend is her servant, Larva (though sometimes I hear Lover? I have goofy ears) who is be-masked and is much like a dark guardian angel. This leaves Miyu basically alone in her mission to fight the shinma, as well as in her overall life, which leaves no room for love or connection. The only so-called connection she can give to humanity is to grant them an eternal gift in exchange for the human blood she needs to sustain her existence. And she is picky as she is not here to ravage everyone’s necks. If she thinks your attractive and suffering, you are more than likely on her hit list. Over the course of the four episode run we are also joined by Himiko, a spiritualist, who is after Miyu to try to stop her from biting her victims. She soon realizes that her destiny is tied to Miyu from the past and comes to have compassion for the princess vampire.

VPM_4The year was 1988, and while big and exciting mecha OVAs in the name of Gunbuster and Patlabor were all the flash and dazzle and had awesome production value, they lacked something essential… the dark. Sometimes you need the dark to find out who you really are. Hence why many of us have an affinity towards… the dark. Vampire Princess Miyu presents the dark with horror and monster elements in an extremely tasteful way, which by the end of the episode run becomes a fine character study of both Miyu and even Himiko. That being said I do love Gunbuster and Patlabor for all that they embody, but I also enjoy Vampire Princess Miyu. Why? Oh come now you know why… I love the DARK!

#27b : The Rose of Versailles

For my original entry for The Rose of Versailles, click here.

Sometimes you have to recover your tracks in order to move forward. In terms of classic anime and in particular, The Rose of Versailles, I have a little more to say…

RoV1Sometimes I wonder if I will ever rewatch certain shows that sit on my shelf or on a hard drive ever again? About a month or so ago I have given one particular show a second go and by the title of the entry it is of course The Rose of Versailles. It seemed like the right time. I didn’t question it, or wonder why. I just needed The Rose of Versailles. After a tough winter with nasty snows, isolation, some setbacks and a gnawing, or itch that chronically comes and goes, the The Rose of Versailles became a sea of calm and a vision of reassurance to say… hey, everything is will be ok. … OK time to get personal.

The Rose of Versailles has high regard for being a standard of … anime excellence. Shojo perfection. Though I feel the show goes beyond the general demographic, as most anime does in any case. And with the show turning 40 this year of 2019, it still looks and presents flawlessly. What a gorgeous masterpiece of visuality. The first half directed by Tadao Nagahama is bright and sparkly reflecting naive youth and the second half of Osamu Dezaki (GENIUS!) is gritty and intense showing the politics of revolutionary France. Beautiful and timeless, a show I am honored to share as a virtual twin (both RoV and I joined the world in 1979).

RoV2So what of the personal? The Rose of Versailles’ main protagonist. Oscar Francois de Jarjayes. is one of two women in anime that I whole heartedly admire; the other being Remy Shimada from GoShogun. Blonde, graceful, intelligent and independent speak to both ladies, but Oscar has something else, a particular fragility. Her sense of duty as a noble, a military commander and her enforced gender classification. Raised as a ‘boy’ and expected to follow into her father’s footsteps, much dysphoria abounds in the beautiful Oscar. This expectation of a gender role, to be a ‘man’ in public, tugs at the truth in her heart that she is a woman. Yet also the role of being a noble who has lived in luxury and comfort and seeing first hand the life outside the gilded cage. Being rich and powerful in a position of authority is not all that it is cracked up to be and the same goes for being a ‘man’ as well. To quote Alan Watts, “don’t envy rich people, it’s a great mistake. Don’t envy anyone.”

Personally I understand both of Oscar’s dilemma’s. I am not ‘rich’ in the way we often think with lots of money, fancy car and house, etc. I am comfortable, yes, as I live in the U.S. and have a ‘job’, but I have great health, my mind and intuitive senses. No amount of money can put a price on those three. Living in the affluent west and seeing much of the flash from TV screens, luxury items and being in stores with a glut of stuff… ok most of it can be classified as crap… that is constantly being barraged through every sense imaginable I question, is this all life is? Is this to be my life? Living in a gilded cage of constant consumption where we are taught there is never enough and you have to bleed yourself dry in order to fit in? Like Oscar, I see the ‘nobility’ of our backgrounds as not real and limiting. Monarchy or capitalist state… looks about the same to me? We just need more corsets and petticoats instead of suits and wingtips.

RoV3And of course there is the concept of gender… and dysphoria… and the combination of the two that Oscar deals with and even I as well when I look in the mirror, sigh. Such questioning and re-questioning of why, how, but what if? I was assigned male at birth, was a decent kid, lived life as a ‘man’ and yeah… all these years the signs were always there. I have always had a side of my closet with all my nicer clothes and some wigs and shoes and more shoes and even more shoes and makeup and accessories and… oh girl, you are so trans, or very gender fluid at least. This is not something new for me to say to myself, but it is something that is becoming harder to hold in and it is something I do not have to have any shame or guilt over. Of course the real test came from watching the first episode of Wandering Son (see I watch titles outside of the 20th century). I was a crying mess through out the whole thing because so much of it rang… personally… true. … My highlight of Oscar’s journey was when she wore that gown to the ball, had her hair all put up and had that mug of her’s painted. I sense a little jealousy on my end… guilty.

In terms of the winter of discontent from 2018/2019, I had The Rose of Versailles as a catalyst to pull me out of my depression. Watching this time round made personal issues come into a better perspective; as well as waking up occasionally in pools of tears. This of course was my reaction to The Rose of Versailles. Beyond these personal points, it is a show about love, politics, desires and revolutionary France with occasional sparkly eyes. God I love shojo anime! It’s a masterpiece and I hope for this show, or any particular anime that you watch, that you take something of it with you to heart. Because sometimes a show is more a mirror of your inner psyche than just ephemeral entertainment. Think about that one!

#128 : Glass Mask

gm_1“All the world’s indeed a stage and we are merely players, performers and portrayers”… The world of the acting… the lights, the crowds, the glamour… if ever a profession was and is over idealized in our society, the actor, or actress may be the top candidate. From the earliest days of known history those who have been involved in acting understand the necessity of wearing a proverbial mask, a persona. Certain masks, or persona, are strong and stabile, while others are fragile, like glass. Welcome to a story were we enter into the world of drama, with with heavy doses of melodrama too boot, known simply as Glass Mask.

gm_2Maya Kitayama, our protagonist, has a serious passion for acting and theater. Desperate for getting a ticket to a play in a nice theater, she works hard with her mother in a restaurant and has lofty dreams to be an actress. She is plain (seriously! Maya you are pretty, come on!), working class and outside the inner circles of acting, yet, because this is anime and fiction, she has a guardian angel to save the day… and in black. Chigusa Tsukikage, a once famed retired actress known for her role of the Crimson Goddess, is this angel… in black. Black because of her long black dress, classy like Maetel from Galaxy Express 999, and her long full locks of curly black hair. Her elegance is never questioned even though she is advanced in age, which makes her a true role model to show beauty is ageless.

gm_3Tsukikage-sensai approaches Maya with a proposal to join her theater academy. Maya’s dream has found an outlet, yet there is a price. Tsukikage-sensai is quite strict and tough and her training towards Maya is at the pinnacle of tough love. Like a slap in the face every once in a while! Ouch! Yet Maya perseveres, and much like a coach in a sport, Tsukikage-sensai’s tenderness is shown, internally of course, as Maya’s talents begin to flourish. Speaking of sports, let me add a fill about how Glass Mask could possibly be a sports anime in disguise. The rivalries, training and aspects of competition are both in Glass Mask and sports anime titles. I sometimes thought I was transported back into shows like Aim for the Ace, Hikari no Densetsu, or Touch, but with a quick head shake realized this was Glass Mask. Be it a sport, or theater, you have to say there are more similarities than differences.

gm_4Now for a different topic… let’s discuss nepotism. As Maya moves up through her journey to become an actor she comes into contact with several theater companies and even a minor movie role, she runs into much favoritism and jealousy. She is quite talented, very raw and passionate about the craft. She does not mean to cause any friction so to speak, but she is often noticed for being just too good and instead of being welcomed back, she often times has to move on to another opportunity. So true in real life as certain organizations, groups, friends, etc. that we all have had has at least one time in our lives preferred a safer choice than a newer, fresher alternate. Such is the life of being talented, as it is lonely as well as rewarding. Still, Maya has much support from her friends from Tsukikage-sensai’s academy, a close male friend, who could become a possible love interest, and a mystery man who always seems to send a note with purple roses at the right place and time. Purple Roses?

Sadly Glass Mask is quite short at 23 episodes as it seems there is much more of a story to tell. And with some basic research one finds that the manga spans 49 collected volumes and is still unfinished. The story presented in this television series flowed well and was consistent with interest, yet I still hungered for more. In 2005 an updated series was released, if that floats your fancy. For me though, Glass Mask is a hallmark of classic shojo, which has been a thorn in my side in regards to availability. Not so anymore with a slick Blu Ray release here in North America. To be, or not to be is not the question… the question of the moment is… where can I find purple roses?

#122 : Swan Lake

SW_1I call to court the fact that Disney has too much of a stranglehold on the so called ‘Princess’ genre. Are there any princesses left that don’t belong to Disney? … any hands in the audience? … Oh, Miss Odette from Swan Lake, you are not part of the Disney pantheon, though Barbie has sure used your story and there is that Swan Princess movie too, but we won’t count these for the moment. Many tales of princesses, eh… lets say fairy tales, have been brought to life from the great artists of Japan, many of which came to life in the 1970s and 80s. Swan Lake is one of the many and in 1981 Toei’s adaptation would see a release in theaters.

SW_2Certain anime titles are with us since our beginnings. Swan Lake is one of the many titles that during my childhood in the 1980s became the genesis point for my love for Japanese animation. With TV series such as Voltron and Robotech and Toei’s Little Mermaid on VHS, Swan Lake would make its way into my consciousness via a chance TV broadcast on a Sunday afternoon. As a younger version of myself I recognized the character designs to be similar to many of the titles listed above and without the knowledge of what or where Swan Lake came from, I enjoyed it. Such was the era before the internet and the word anime came into our lexicon… you loved a cartoon because it resonated with you and that was all that we went on back in the day.

SW_3Based on the ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, expect to see fine visuals mixed with the classic and powerful, yet refined music of Tchaikovsky. Swan Lake is a love story between two star crossed lovers, a handsome prince and a captive princess who has been enchanted to become a swan by day and a girl by night in the clutches of an evil sorcerer. …and… don’t forget the love story between a pairing of two squirrels as well. And yes those two little ones do play a part into the story beyond just being cute animal characters. This is classic romanticism, yet kind of old hat as it is about a guy rescuing a girl in captive. It’s a time and tested formula, yet it is nice to see the roles reversed. That being said I have nothing against the formula this time round as this story can also hold more esoteric meaning beyond the exoteric surface. Fairy tales and myths are filled with esoteric concepts and add a BIG reason for me to revisit these classic stories again for another frame of reference.

SW_4And what of a supposed ‘Black Swan’? Let’s throw a monkey wrench into this entry. Odette our heroine is so innocent, dressed in white, passive, blonde hair… she is the essence of clarity and purity as a symbolic figure. Hence why Rothbart, the sorcerer, finds her so attractive as she is the total opposite to his dark ways and look. A true essence of polarity. AND… he is one dirty old man for wanting a young trophy wife as a status symbol. Ecchi! A very similar dynamic to Vampire Hunter D with Count Magnus Lee and young Doris. But what of this ‘Black Swan’ mentioned earlier? Rothbart has a daughter at about the same age as Odette, Odile. She may be my favorite character as she is the ‘bad’ girl. Well not bad, just independent, dark and gothic and a little conniving. Her daddy can have Odette, though Odile thinks its odd, but that leaves her to be with that stud of a Prince. It must be his haircut that makes him so popular? Anime and romance… it’s never simple.

True unconditional love and magic under the moonlight mixed with heroic virtue and a classic soundtrack. You know you want to watch? … Swan Lake you were with me since my salad days of youth and you still hold a place in my collection and my present. If Disney ever makes claim to do a version of Swan Lake they are welcome, but I will more than likely stay with my old friend out of respect.

#116 : Aim for the Ace (TV series)

AftAtv_1The sun beats down as sweat drips from your forehead onto your hands. Those hands are gripping a tennis racket and as you pant for a moment of breathe you concentrate your stare upwards to your opponent. It’s your turn to serve, its match point and you are about to finish the game of your life. … (shakes head) … Wow, daydreaming really takes your mind away from where you are. Almost as if you are in the ‘game’ so to speak; the game of tennis in this instance. We are not here to discuss the actual sport itself, but an anime about a girl’s rise into the world of high school tennis. Serve, smash, volley… welcome to the original TV adaptation of Aim for the Ace.

AftAtv_2For shojo sports anime, Aim for the Ace is perhaps the grand dame of the genre. The elder spokeswoman, yet not the originator. A volleyball themed series from 1969, Attack No. 1, is from my research the first anime to show girls in the world of sport. Aim for the Ace is perhaps remembered better because of the popular and excellent film adaptation from 1979, but this entry will look at the previously released TV series of 1973. Both tell the same story with a small amount of variation to story, both were created at TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) under the direction of Osamu Dezaki (GENIUS!) and both are hallmark titles representing the growing sophistication of anime in the 1970s. The movie may have a more technically sophisticated presentation (which is ‘SO’ important in our HD obsessed world), but the TV series has a few tricks up it’s sleeve that I found endearing.

AftAtv_3Like many sports entries, Aim for the Ace is a simple coming of age story. Our heroine Hiromi Oka, though being a complete amateur (and at times a klutz), wins a spot on the coveted varsity team at Nishi High School. Nishi’s coach Jin Munakata sees much potential in the abilities of Hiromi, which in typical shojo fashion starts a soap opera of drama between the other girls on the team. Kyoko Otawa, in particular, would loss her spot on the varsity squad, which brings out a very jealous and deceptive character. And then there is the queen herself, the best player on Nishi’s squad, Reika Ryuzaki a.k.a. Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly). At first, Rieka lives up to the sempai relationship towards Hiromi by becoming a shining example to follow. Yet when Hiromi’s skills begin to improve and challenge those of Reika’s is when we see the dark side of the beautiful butterfly. Needless to say the greater length of this TV series lends itself to more story and character development compared to the movie.

AftAtv_4Visually, Aim for the Ace is a great example of manga come to life. Gorgeous watercolor like backgrounds and rougher lines push the look of being hand made. There is a simplicity within the rawness that makes it feel honest and have a lot of heart. So while this may have been par for the course for animation back in the day, it is welcome to see a cartoon not look too overly polished and sophisticated like many productions of today. Then again this was all completed under the direction of Osamu Dezaki and I have many times commented on how much I enjoy the way he approaches animation. Dezaki knows just how to make it all look so… so… so damn good!

Much like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam, Aim for the Ace was cancelled early due to low ratings (well thats what Wikipedia says!). All three series through the effort of loyal fans, reruns and eventual film adaptations would become legends. Often in our current glut of all that we have nowadays, how often does this opportunity of a second chance gets to come to a fruition. But much like many of these other shows from the 1970s, Aim for the Ace would get it’s second chance, but if you ask me, it was just right for what it had to bring to the table the first time around as well. I loved the movie, but I also loved this TV series for what it was, still is and always will be… a forerunner… a classic… a beautiful anime!