#166 : Stop!! Hibari-kun!

Be on the lookout for white alligators! … In essence Stop!! Hibari-kun! is like many screwball high school romance, or family comedies that can be easily overlooked. And with it being a Shonen Jump property, I am sure Stop!! Hibari-kun! goes more with High School Kimengumi in the overlooked pile being it is a sibling to more popular heavy weights like Dragon Ball, or more fitting Kimagure Orange Road (romcom over action). Gender identity, yakuzas, family and comedic sequences that stretch the boundaries of believed reality and science are what makes this 1983 TV series a laugh out loud insane asylum, though there is one joke I don’t see as all that funny, but I take it in stride.

SHk_1Every show of this category has it’s niche that defines the comical plot and undertones that define other characters actions. Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! has two with the first being that Hibari is an early example of an openly honest transgender character in anime. Through she is often referred to as he, or a crossdresser, or sometimes… a… ‘pervert’? For real? Men who decide to wear women’s clothes, women who like to be more masculine, or those beautiful souls who identify as trans are not perverts! Hibari as a strong willed character defends her identity with ease because she knows she is awesome at everything… literally, she is a prodigy at almost anything! Yet as someone who grew up not as confident, and also identifies somewhere different on the gender spectrum, ‘pervert’ was a word I often associated with myself for years and even decades out of shame and guilt. Times and attitudes may be changing, but sometimes personally, we all have to catch up to ourselves to a certain degree.

SHk_2The running joke of the cute ‘girl’ is really a ‘boy’… transwoman!… creates havoc on Stop!! Hibari-kun’s! other main protagonist Kosaku Sakamoto. After his mothers death he comes under the care of the Obari family, who happen to be yakuza, yet another layer to add to the plotline. Kosaku notices that old man Obari has only daughters and eyes onto Hibari… and then the secret gets out and this creates tension within Kosaku. Wow, she is adorable, but she is… this can’t be right… oh Kosaku… you know you want her! All the other boys at school are jealous that she likes you, but they see her as any other cis-girl. As even the opening credits says, color TVs have many shades of color and the same thing applies to boys and girls. If only Stop!! Hibari-kun! came out more recently instead of 1983, Kosaku may be more open to a relationship outside the cis-normative binary.

SHk_3Beyond the upsetting of traditional gender roles and stereotyping, the majority of Stop!! Hibari-kun! is the loaded with stock and trade high school, family and yes even yakuza antics that can ring true no matter the show… you have to laugh because this show is very funny. This of course includes the entire cast, which by show’s end must contain the entire population of the world of Stop!! Hibari-kun. The comedy, action and even certain characters go into levels of campiness and surreal insanity that kept me wanting each successive episode. What will happen next time?, top that?, or boundaries?… limits?… let‘s break them up! This is the advantage of using animation as a medium for comedy as why be subtle when anything, and I mean anything can be possible. Yet the most poignant moment of the show was Hibari meeting someone else who is also transgender, using the term newhalf. It gave her a sense of grounding and me as well that despite all the silliness, white alligators and insanity, we can also have a sparse moment that recognizes we are not alone even if we feel a little different.

SHk_4My biggest complaint beyond the use of the word ‘pervert’ was that Stop!! Hibari-kun ran far too short in the episode count. Just 35? I was getting warmed up, but alas certain show runs are often limited; I am fortunate we got we have that is available. This was a welcome entry both as a comedy and also as a show depicting someone who is transgender. I often wonder what happened to Hibari? Did she fully transition, or does she live fluidly, or something else? Maybe the manga has more to say on this… it often does usually. Don’t Stop! Hibari-kun!

Side note… the actors who played Kosaku and Hibari… Tohru Furuya and Satomi Majima respectively are husband and wife!

The Shonen Jump Revolution of 1986

A couple years ago I gave a panel with this very title, and I am trademarking it (LOL). I thought to myself why not include a paired down version here at CAM. 1986 was a landmark year for the shonen fighting genre and while it was not invented in that particular year, it without question rose to an elite status that garners even today a place at the top of the popularity polls in terms of genre. Three titles would cement this stature and rocket Shonen Jump from one of Japan’s top manga publishers into a brand that for many define what anime means for them.

The original panel covered a cross section of Shonen Jump material from the 1980s as padding to surround the eclipse point of 1986. I had to fill an hour and this also showed that Shonen Jump is far more than fighting anime alone. Titles as diverse as Baoh, Captain Tsubasa, Cat’s Eye, Dr. Slump, Kimagure Orange Road and more would be included bringing curiosity, laughter and smiles to the approximate crowd of 25 in the room. But the main focus of anticipation would be the holy trinity of 1986 and when I got to that particular year all ear perked up. Luckily for your I left hints in the header image… spoiler alert!

First on our list is a film… an adaptation of a 1984 TV series that is often considered the “Father of the Shonen Fighter.” Who’s your daddy? … Kenshiro … Good answer! Fist of the North StarHokuto no Ken… the ultimate struggle of good vs. evil, power vs. restraint and ying and yang with enough muscle and martial arts to satisfy a healthy diet of action. (For more indepth analysis click here.)

Next comes my unabashed favorite… very heavy bias, but I will spare the details on that. Any other Saint Seiya fans out there? A show based loosely on Greek Mythological themes with aspects of astrological significations, no wonder I am in love with this show. I was heard a description of Saint Seiya that went like this… “It’s like pretty boys in armor fighting while galaxies explode in the background.” Yeah, I can vouch for that. (For more indepth analysis click here.)

And the finale, one of the most popular anime titles of all time that still continues today. The original Dragon Ball, long before Z, is perhaps the prototypical, most influential Shonen Jump fighting series of all time. As a loose adaptation of the traditional Chinese story of The Journey to the West, Dragon Ball would add Akira Toriyama’s humor to create an unexpected ‘Heroes Journey’ narrative that stretched the bounds of adventure, comedy and one’s imagination. (For more indepth analysis click here.)

This of course is a theory, my own personal opinion, and if your view varies that is ok, but one cannot deny that 1986 can be considered an important step in the evolution of the shonen fighting genre’s popularity. For many years mecha was the king of hill in terms of shonen adventures, unchallenged and towering in strength. Then came 1986. Ask a majority of casual, hardcore, or even non-fans of anime about our love of Japanese cartoons and Shonen Jump anime adaptations often comes up in conversation. Shonen Jump anime is as much part of the zeitgeist of the landscape as much as Studio Ghibli, Pokemon, or whatever else is in fashion at the time. And it is to Fist of the North Star, Saint Seiya and Dragon Ball that we have to thank for not so much laying the ground work, but solidifying the foundation.

#127 : Fist of the North Star (TV Series)

fotnstv_1I often equate Fist of the North Star as a western, or maybe a modern tale of the roaming samurai. In any case, it is the same style of story, just from a different context and disguised as a shonen fighter. This is the lone wolf roaming in a world filled with chaos who makes change and restores balance by being the example to be. Fist of the North Star may be what many of us think it is, but once you watch the original 109 episode run, you may have to second guess what you thought and understand more so the feeling.

fotnstv_2The reputation of Fist of the North Star is often a slaughterfest, manly anime (MANime…face palm) and high intense action. These characteristics may hold true to a certain level, but on another, I see elements of balance, compassion and even… calmness. There is from my eyes a heavy Buddhist or Taoist influence to Fist of the North Star and it is best seen through our main protagonist Kenshiro. He possesses great strength and skill, enough to split an individual in two, or have one’s head explode. Yet he does this with very little effort, often from an acupressure point. And his stance is one of defense, he does not attack with anger or malice. Kenshiro reacts and uses his martial art abilities only when it is needed. Much like Captain Harlock, Kenshiro is an individual who is aware of the dualities of the world, yet they know how to react with composure. A true state of one who is enlightened and is in equilibrium with the masculine and the feminine.

fotnstv_3Being the progenitor, father, or maybe nowadays even the grandfather for the modern Shonen Jump styled fighting series, Fist of the North Star is a pure essence of the non-ending quest of episodes or manga volume about a hero who must fight to live. Fist of the North Star led the way to Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya, then to Yu Yu Hakusho, Rurouni Kenshin, One Peace, Bleach, Naruto and the list goes on and on. Yet Fist of the North Star did not just come out of nowhere. Yes you can see the elements of Mad Max and Bruce Lee in the designs and environments, but Fist of the North Star also has much to owe to anime titles of the 1970s like Babel IICasshan and Devilman. Then we get to 1984 and Fist of the North Star debuts on television screens across Japan. In an industry that at the time was saturated by mecha and superheroes, the journey of Kenshiro was something fresh and some what new and yet a minor evolution as well.

fotnstv_4As a lengthy show one must be prepared to go in for the so-called long haul. Be patient and persevere through each episode. Fist of the North Star takes time to get warmed up so to speak and even though, as is the case with many of the shonen fighters, you may question is this is going anywhere? And slowly, much like an onion, layer upon layer becomes revealed and all through heavy amounts of drama and seriousness. Each episode reveals new characters, new fights and more drama and like the cycle of a day starts over again and again anew. Enemies becomes allies, fights turn deadly and important lessons to be absorbed by you the viewer are assimilated all at the same time and usually with a tissue box on hand. Fist of the North Star is a show about returning to love and sympathizing those who are flawed, yet still human.

If you want to take the shorter route, you can  immerse yourself into the 1986 motion picture version of Fist of the North Star. It has much bang for the buck, but it also is missing much of the story, characters and added drama that I fell in love with in this TV series. As is much in life as is with Fist of the North Star, the longer harder road is the path that rewards far more than the quicker fix. Just why did it all have to end with a clip episode? The answer is simple… the story has only begun… enter Fist of the North Star II. Yes folks, there is a sequel.

#95 : Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin

SF_1Often times shonen fighters are a time tested formula much like a twelve bar blues. Everyone has their rendition of the young boy setting out into the world and in the process makes friends, fights adversaries, then make friends of former adversaries and get involved in lots of training. Now for this time round let’s drop the whole idea of our hero being a human being. How about a tale from the animal world and in particular the world of our canine friends? A shonen fighter about dogs? This is Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin (Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin).

SF_2Here is a mashup for you… let’s combine some older more serious Shonen Jump properties like say Fist of the North Star and Saint Seiya, add a little bit of the classic adventures of famed writer Jack London (White Fang and The Call of the Wild comes to mind) and for good measure lets also add a little bit of Watership Down. This is how I interpret Silver Fang in a basic tidy package. The presence of dogs are nothing new to anime, examples include: Casshan’s cybernetic Friender, the large mecha-like Yatter-Wan from Yatterman (I need to see more of this show!) and Ein in Cowboy Bebop. All three of these examples show the dog as a sidekick, a minor character, but to have the dogs themselves be the main attraction and more ‘human’ like with a complex structure of language, society and free will is a nice change (hence the Watership Down reference). Living life, having the human experience in the guise of a dog.

SF_3Gin’s origins trace him to a family of hunting dogs. His father, Riki, accompanies his master in the hunting of the great super villian, Akakabuto (an insane giant bear). Dogs versus bears… interesting. During this hunt Riki goes missing and is presumed to be dead. In the meantime Gin’s birth occured and would be soon he would be reared under a little boy named Daisuke. A boy and his dog, so cute! This sort of childhood for Gin would end once Daisuke’s grandfather, the hunter mentioned earlier, begins to train and toughen up little Gin to become a bear hunter. Again dogs versus bears, amazing. Gin’s time in the wilderness would get him acquainted with another hunting dog who eventually tells Gin about a colony of dogs who have gone wild to fight Akakabuto. Gin tastes the ‘call of the wild’ and sets off onto the hero’s journey. And on this journey he will meet many a sempai who helps him grow up, but one question remains. Who is the leader of this group of dogs and what actually did happen to Gin’s father, Riki?

SF_4For a Shonen Jump manga that ran for 28 volumes can you imagine how many episodes made it into final production? Perhaps 100 or so… no. OK, maybe 52… ah nope. 26!? The correct answer is 19. Wow, thats not many for back in the day, but let’s look a little deeper. Silver Fang debuted in 1986 under the shadow of two other higher profile Shonen Jump brothers and all three of these were animated at Toei. The siblings Silver Fang had competition with was none other than Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya; David vs. two Goliaths in a nut shell. And yet in the shorter span of story telling you get what you need, so not much filler. Kind of a relief in a way, yet with the longer run of the manga I wonder how much was cut to make this production?

Shonen Jump celebrates 50 years this year (2018). The big names will get another day in the sun; Dragon Ball, One Piece and Naruto will most likely have lots of exposure. But, I say why remember and stay with the nostalgia of familiar properties when you can try another show you may not have seen before. Being that 2018 is the year of the dog in the Chinese Zodiac, I nominate Gin as the mascot for this year. All the more reason to give Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin a chance in your playlist.

… lions and tigers and DOGS versus BEARS, oh my!

#91 : Cat’s Eye

There should be honor among thieves. After all, and I am quoting from another anime, “It isn’t stolen, merely borrowed without the benefit of paperwork” (GoShogun: The Time Étranger). Some thieves acquire for greed, others for survival and others for getting back what is rightfully their own property. As this particular story goes, we have three sisters in Japan with a mission to collect artwork that was created by their estranged father. Always one step ahead of the cops and another step ahead of our hearts, lets meet the Kisugi sisters, better known as Cat’s Eye.

CE_1Mix three parts Lupin III, one part Dirty Pair, one part Charlie’s Angels and a dash of Shonen JumpShonen Jump? For real? Indeed, one of the few examples of SJ anime with female lead characters I can think of. Cat’s Eye was created by the same dude, Tsukasa Hojo, that did City Hunter (also SJ); both shows look similar in approach. Earlier it sounded like I was making some fancy schmancy coffee a lot of you folks drink from Starbucks. Funny to throw in that reference because the Cat’s Eye girls own a coffee shop… named Cat’s Eye. Way to state the obvious ladies without getting caught; you three get bonus points from me. What a combination, these girls are skilled with stealth, athletic ability and can make a mean cup of joe (helps out if you have to pull an all nighter?).

CE_2Enough of these intros, we need to meet the Kisugi sisters. Let’s start with kid sister Ai, she is the tech geek and yet still in high school. Then there is older sister Rui with long curly hair, beauty mark and red lipstick (she may be my favorite). Finally, we have middle sister and our main protagonist, Hitomi who does a majority of the  thievery. Often times she herself is considered Cat’s Eye, kind of like Ken the Eagle in Gatchaman. Now for a great twist in regards to who Hitomi’s boyfriend is. He is Toshio ‘Toshi’ Utsumi and he works across the street from the Cat’s Eye coffee shop and he is a cop and his main assignment is the capture of Cat’s Eye. The poor guy must not be very bright knowing his beloved is also his biggest nemesis.

CE_3As stated before, our girls only steal artwork that belongs in the collection of their artist father, Michael Heinz. Wait I thought Cat’s Eye were the Kisugi sisters and this guy’s last name is Heinz? Perhaps its a nickname or the girls took their mother’s maiden name? At any rate, these girls are honest and always leave a calling card stating when and where they will strike next. These are usually business card sized and they are delivered ninja style like shurikens, very bold. Speaking of ninja skills I often thought these girls honored that tradition with their abilities of stealth and agility. Except this was all set in the 1980s, so they have to wear tight leotards. The era of aerobics left influence in both the girl’s costumes and both ending credit sequences. Flashdance anyone?

CE_4How odd that both Cat’s Eye and Lupin III were made at TMS (awesome studio). Talk about a great crossover possibility… that never happened. Also odd is how this show leads you on with the plot. Do we ever find the whereabouts of Michael Heinz? Spoiler, but no. At the end of the first season it seemed that the next half of the show would focus on this plot point and it did… vaguely. Almost as if it was just filler material. Hmm… Shonen Jump adaptations and filler episodes, yea like that never happens? Needless to say I was disappointed once I got to the end, but I had a good time getting there anyway. Plus, Toshi never catches Hitomi in the act. And while it is true that a few episodes flirted with the possibility of discovering the truth, Cat’s Eye ends it all in a stalemate. Maybe I am being too hard on this show?

A final word of warning if you have any of Michael Heinz’s artwork! Be prepared if one of Cat’s Eye’s calling cards appears because these girls always get the goods. Cat’s Eye the group may steal art, but Cat’s Eye the show stole my heart. An ode to my favorite holiday gift from 2017, good times! Why didn’t I see this show sooner?

#86 : Baoh

baoh_1A question to all you loyal fans of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure… who’s your daddy? Or perhaps, who is your older brother may be more precise? 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell (who here remembers East Germany?), Dragon Ball decided to add the Z and Saint Seiya would call it a day on the small screen, a lone wolf, short, direct to video release of a Hirohiko Araki manga would hit the shelves of video stores. Behold all that is Baoh.

baoh_2Now here is how to tell a story… A teenage boy caught up in an accident is taken in by a secret group and has a worm implanted into him to make him into the ultimate fighting, or perhaps, killing machine. Wait a minute a worm? Eww… that is gross man, but hey I didn’t create this story. And while he is being transported in statis he becomes awakened with the help of a psychic girl (Thanks for waking me up kid, that was one hell of a dream). Both escape for the hills so to speak and this so-called group does everything and anything in their power to get their prized experiment back. And hopefully before our hero, Ikuro Hashizawa, evolves towards his full potential. Hmm, kind of cliche…I smell elements of Black Magic M-66, or even maybe M.D. Geist (maybe?), but who said those are original ideas either. And if Baoh is cliche, then it does cliche oh so much better.

baoh_3Now this may be the shortest anime based off a Shonen Jump manga? Don’t quote me on this, but in a sea of triple digit episode TV adaptations a single release OVA, that does not even span an hour, is quite the welcome rarity. There is no room for filler here kids, in fact there is hardly any room to give any back story or character development. And yet we do get some… amazing. We start this story in media res and don’t stop till you cry out… NO, I want more. And then you play it again and perhaps again after that as well. Just don’t forget to put the TV on mute and crank up your old Van Halen albums (David Lee Roth era) just in case you run out of ideas of how to make Baoh even more fun! I personally recommend Atomic Punk from the first VH album. “I am a victim of the science age, a child of the storm, whoa yes!”

baoh_4I recently commented on how Blue Sonnet was a fun ride from start to finish and that was accomplished in a very short period of time, just five episodes… count ’em. Baoh is the equivalent of two of those… yeah… TWO! And for that short space, it does one thing so well… and that is… be awesome. I usually write more for these entries, but I don’t want to spoil Baoh in case you have not seen it yet. Seriously, describing the whole plot is pointless as you must see it to believe it. Baoh, you were and are a fine definition of action entertainment from the closing of that fine decade of the past; 1980s forever. Cigarette lighters take to the air and salute.

afterthought … maybe now is the time to finally give JoJo’s a try.

#76 : Fist of the North Star (movie)

Do you think you know Fist of the North Star? I thought I did from all the reputation of the so called ‘manliness’. Manliness… HAHAHA!… this is a Shonen Jump adaptation, COME ON! Nothing wrong with SJ titles though. I was thinking this was another slaughterfest and testosterone showoff for masculinity. And yet, the movie adaptation could be viewed that way, but look a little closer… and what can be seen… I found an honorable hero, a struggle between pairs of opposites and a story of redemption. Fist of the North Star turned out for me to be the ultimate journey of the hero, the spiritual quest fulfilled and a pretty good film.

FotNS_1It all started with a single second hand VHS tape. I had bought a load of anime on tape during a low time in my life, I was between jobs. The universe gifted me all these $1 deals. Fist of the North Star, the old Streamline dub release, was among this grouping. So now I had a copy of this famed movie and upon getting home it would find it’s way into my VCR. As I said earlier, I was expecting an all out unemotional gore fest similar to M.D. Geist or Violence Jack. And yet the film begins talking about the balance of the universe and that there are two schools of self defense that symbolize this balance. These schools can never fight each other because if they do, the world will be at a mess. I shook my head… this is all Eastern spiritual practice. This is deep and up my alley… well then I am interested in continuing this story.

FotNS_2Let’s now talk about our main protagonist, Kenshiro. Muscle clad and buff beyond belief… and yet, quiet and gentile. A man who holds the power to make a head explode via knowledge of pressure points in the body with any other personality would be insanity. Much like Captain Harlock, he is the stoic figure and an island of calm in a world that is out of control. Maybe Kenshiro is karma in human form? And as much as he can inflict damage, his hands can also heal. Creation and destruction often go hand in hand and in the hands of Kenshiro, they meet perfectly. The first time I had acupuncture I mentioned this anime to my Chinese Medicine practitioner and he found the concept fascinating. Both FotNS and acupuncture are about opening up energy sections on particular points of the body… so they go hand in hand (that saying again?). I still get acupuncture to this day with the same practitioner because it’s so awesome.

FotNS_3Now I know I said that FotNS is more than just a fighting anime, but… yeah, it is maybe the complete definition of a fighting anime. While Dragon Ball and DBZ may hold the crown, it cannot neglect it’s older brother. FotNS follows more hand in hand with say Saint Seiya (loves this one) with being more serious and intense. And I love a heavy melodrama, but where FotNS beats out both DB or SS it there is no safety net in regards if you are mortally wounded, you are done… no second chances. But, FotNS and Kenshiro may get a lot of credit being the first shonen fighter, but I shake my head at this. Shows from the 70s like Casshan or Babel II would lay the real ground work in my opinion.

FotNS_4Two big thumbs up for this is film adaptation. First the artwork is beautiful, almost like that movie that Toei also worked on for the west, the original Transformers: The Movie. Strong color and fluid motion that is an improvement over the TV series. Also, its a one shot run. Compared to the long TV series… which is good, but for me really, really dragged on and on. That being said the quicker pace of the movie might make you go, whoa we are at this part already? You have to cut some of the fat out and certain areas like smaller main antagonists and Kenshiro’s brother Toki I miss the most.

I often put this movie in the same pedigree as the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Bloodsport. They kind of go hand in hand (had to say it once more for good measure), being fighting movies that take’s themselves so seriously with a certain bit of 1980s style that they become very entertaining. Plus, you have to love that theme song Heart of Madness ‘for a long, long time’ to sing along with. Fist of the North Star is a unique animal and is one of the go to anime from the 1980s that needs to be experienced at least once. After all, how do you end a film between two brawny guys fighting each other to the death? Have a little girl come between them to say that all the fighting in humanity is pointless. Priceless!