#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?

#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!

#108 : They Were 11

TW11_1Now for that age old question… what do you want to be when you grow up? The more appropriate version I would say is… when you mature what identity, or role, will you tie your life towards. For a group of young students in a far off sci-fi future these questions amongst many others will be answered as they learn to live with each other and understand what is important and true for themselves. In 1986, these students were the focus of a feature film by the name of They Were 11.

TW11_2Imagine having to pass a final exam as if your life was on the line, literally! Groupings of ten students have to board spaceships and survive on what is available and solve any problems without guidance. If you need to call for help, even just once, you have to forfeit the idea of graduation. As the story begins we have an immediate problem. This group of ten students we will be with during the story numbers one more. We have eleven students instead of ten, which means one of them is either a stow a way, an imposter and maybe even a threat. Who can it be? Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet all of them have legitimate reasons for being part of this final test. As the story unfolds, the drama grows as problems and issues ensue and trust becomes difficult between these eleven as one of them seems to intuitively understand the ship and certain circumstances better than the rest of the group. This would be enough for any other tale, but They Were 11 has even more to tell.

TW11_3The eleven students all come from different backgrounds. Many of them come from royalty, or well to do families and are in school to essentially follow their family’s traditions. These students are locked into their own paradigms and don’t have much choice for their lives. Tada, one of our main protagonists, is an exception as he is a highly gifted young man from a modest background and is making his way based on his talents instead of his lineage. Add to this, Tada begins to awaken to esper and psychic abilities, plus repressed memories from his childhood, that makes him quite suspect to the others. Frol, our other primary protagonist, is a young feminine androgyne who desperately wants to fit in and be one of the boys due to male privilege and freedom. Frol’s questioning of gender is the other major focus of They Were 11 as Frol comes to terms with the fact that in heart, soul and body a woman she is meant to be. A relationship soon develops between both Tada and Frol as they both share each other’s company, ideas and struggles.

TW11_4So many times space opera is a showdown of spaceships, laser beams, battle tactics and macho bravado, or perhaps, stern military seriousness. Many examples can follow these traits and do it successfully, but They Were 11 goes against this trend. Instead we have a story about relationship, characterization, love and sacrifice set in a future outer space environment. Sounds more like a shojo type of story than the usual shonen/seinen and by jove it is; one of my all time favorite’s of the designation. Instead of the bombast of say a full symphony orchestra, we have a string quartet. And though the size is smaller in scale, the power behind the meaning being expressed may be a little more intense. This is space opera treated as traditional drama for the stage; They Were 11 is dramatic theater, a play, set to animation.

They Were 11 tackles many difficult issues and does it all with grace and dignity. The original manga was the creation of one the best from the Year 24 Group, Moto Hagio, a woman who I have heard was the female equivalent to the great Osamu Tezuka. They Were 11 is a story that represents themes of self discovery and aspiring not to become someone, but to embrace an inner truth in ourselves that only we know to be correct. In a year that saw the release of Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky and one of my all time favorite’s Windaria, They Were 11 represents a true dark horse that deserves more attention and recognition; an awesome and inspiring movie.

#104 : Aim for the Ace (movie)

AftA_movie1I often find that the older I get, an interest in professional sports and following a team, or such, is not something to aspire towards. Yet I respect sport and competition and my love for anime is strong, if only there were anime about sports… oh, yeah there IS! And LOTS of them too. There are several I have enjoyed and are quite good as well. And then there are entries that are legendary, hall of famers so to speak. Aim for the Ace is part of that higher echelon of sports legends. As I make my way through the original 1973 Aim for the Ace TV series I had to stop and take a break to revisit the cinema version of 1979.

AftA_movie2The influence of this movie is epic and goes well beyond the sport of tennis and sports anime itself. I am sure Studio Gainax and a young Hideaki Anno loved this story because Aim for the Ace is written all over Gainax’s first OVA release and Anno’s directorial debut Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. The name totally gives away the influence, but also the story in and of itself is a close facsimile except tennis was swapped out for a sci-fi world with mechs. Still in both stories the concept of aiming to be your best! And not just the best in your own frame of reference, but also to your fellow peers and most importantly, to a mentor who sees more potential in you than you see in yourself. It’s a type of story that never gets old because don’t we all need a reminder to pick ourselves up and try again if we stumble?

AftA_movie3Aim for the Ace’s story begins with it’s starry eyed protagonist Hiromi Oka, a new student at Nishi High School. She and her best friend Maki join the illustrious and highly noted tennis club and soon she has her eyes on two particular individuals. The first being the all-star of the girl’s varsity team, the amazingly talented, most beautiful and girl with perhaps the best hair in all of anime (seriously where do you get all that volume and curls?), Reika Ryuzaki better known as Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly, so fitting). The second is Nishi’s new coach, Jin Munakata, a former champion, who is a tough yet fair mentor whose presence brings out a little fear and sweat. His first objective is to test the team, to see which of the hundred or so members are most fit to play on the school’s varsity squad. Hiromi is still very much a rookie and when her time comes to test her skills, she connects with one ball that impresses the coach in more ways than one. So much so that she lands a spot on the varsity team… wha, say what? Now the drama, no, more like soap opera begins!

AftA_movie4While watching the original TV series concurrently with this film, I could not help but notice the jump in animation quality and complexity. The fluidity of the film is a quantum leap from the TV series and could be down to a number of factors. First, the idea that you go from TV to movie is obvious since there is often a budget increase. The second is the six year gap between TV to the movie. This second reason is a strong point to a theory I have about how the 1970s is perhaps the most important decade in all of Japanese animation. Stories grew into more sophistication, many traditions and cliches settled themselves during this time and drawing and animation began to mature and become more complex. Such an awesome decade and Aim for the Ace is a great example of the growth of anime during this era. Ah to be born in the ‘70s… wait I was born then… 1979 no less… so that means I am the same age as this movie… interesting!

Now for the final wrap up… Aim for the Ace, is based on a great shojo manga (check!), was made at the awesome Tokyo Movie Shinsha (check!), was directed by the creative and artistic Osamu Dezaki (check!), and it still stands the test of time (double and triple check!). Aim for the Ace wins in straight sets!

#90 : Twinkle Heart

TH_1What this world needs is not more cowbell (thanks Christopher Walken), but… more super cute stuffed animals that come to life. Mmm hmm. You got to love them and hug them and this anime has that and room to spare. Even killer giant stuffed animals… can this be for real? If you want high brow you better run and hide, because Twinkle Heart is about two things, simplicity and all things adorable. KAWAII!!!

TH_2So apparently God has a couple of daughters and they have a very important assignment. Their names are Lemon, the sweet one (lemon’s are sweet?), Cherry, the loose cannon (token redhead 🙂 ), and their posh guardian Miss Berry. Together they are in search to find the ultimate love in the universe that has apparently become lost. Now hold on, are you telling me God has lost the ultimate treasure of love? Dude you are not keeping up your end of the bargain, who voted for this guy anyway… I miss the other God, he at least remembers love… OK enough of all that. The three girls end up getting a signal on a distant planet and proceed to go, except Cherry waits for Lemon and Berry to get changed before going into warp. Lemon gets her bra strap stuck on her sweater. COME ON! We got a mission to attend to.

TH_3Once our merry band of ladies arrive to their destination they discover the source of this lost love and it is contained in two totally cute stuffed animals. One a bear named Shimy Shimy (this one is shy just so you know) and a bat named Cream Puff Bat (and this one loved cream puffs so much that eating several turned it white). Both of these adorable ‘toys’ are being harassed by a few bratty little boys. The girls try to stop the bullying and in doing so end up going crazy because you should never, ever… ever… call a girl a flat chested pig. That’s a direct quote! Cherry being the sensible one lays down the law in an almost psychotic way. Once free of the so-called brats, Berry begins to ‘communicate’ with our cute stuffed friends.

TH_4And then… this dude in a scarf and nicely combed hair shows up to steal these stuffed animals because that is his job, a treasure hunter (and not a pirate). Lemon seems to think he is some guy she met on Earth. Her heart is going pitter pat because he looks exactly like that oh so cute guy that showed her how to drink a milk properly without swallowing the marble in the bottle. … I may have done enough damage as to describe practically half of this 45 minute one-off OVA. Well I can provide on more spoiler… guess what the name of the guy who invented the toys is named? Geppetto; nice reference to Pinocchio. It may not be for everyone, but you can at least have a sense of humor and enjoy what it is. I found it a funny release, but I would not consider this high on any priority list.

Oh how I want a piece of ham and bread to go with this cheesy anime. Twinkle Heart is often considered a pointless anime, not bad, just pointless. Still something seems to be missing. One absolute remains… in the title screen it said that this was volume one. Are you telling me there is, or was a volume two? A second installment never made it into production, but it makes you wonder what if it did? I’ll be honest… I would watch it!