#158 : Crusher Joe (OVA series)

CJOVA_1Joe is back and our favorite Crushers have a couple more stories to tell! Two to be exact: The Ice Prison and The Final Weapon Ash (These titles have a few translated variations). The 1983 Crusher Joe movie was an enjoyable ride of a great time, but this 1989 OVA set may even be better. With shorter run times, fluid animation, great pacing and lots more fun, fun, fun, both episodes (I prefer to call them mini movies) of the Crusher Joe OVA series may be some of the best (if not the best?) sci-fi action anime produced in the decade of the 1980s. While Haruka Takachiho’s other creation, The Dirty Pair, may get more attention, those of us in the know really love Joe.

CJOVA_2The joy of Crusher Joe has always been there are no strings attached. You don’t have to have to learn a lot of back story, or get fully involved into the property. Much like a well made platformer, or an arcade title (in regards to video games), or a classic board game like Monopoly, all you have to do is just play it. This is the process of getting oneself into the game and learn the rules as you go, or as the old saying goes, “it’s easy to pickup, but can take a lifetime to master.” This is true of any craft, or hobby as well and I only point out games because Crusher Joe is all about fun and pure enjoyment. Crusher Joe is often quoted as a prototype, or influence for Cowboy Bebop, so it is easily accessible in terms of hitting a chord towards a common denominator for sci-fi action. While the Crusher Joe movie does this well, the OVA does this even better as it gets you into the mode and feel of what Crusher Joe is all about faster. From my own opinion, watch the OVAs first and then watch the movie.

CJOVA_3Both The Ice Prison and The Final Weapon Ash are stories about rescue operations. I hope Crushers get paid well, because it seems like they always get hired to do the dirtiest of work and it ruins one’s vacations on the shortest of notice. The Ice Prison has Joe, Alfin, Talos and Ricky hired by a corrupt government looking to change the course of an asteroid that has gone into free fall towards their planet. This asteroid also happens to house political prisoners as well who mine it for natural resources. An added bonus for this job is the fact that the Crushers are asked to make an attempt, and I use this word wisely, at rescuing these prisoners. Once the job starts the truth becomes apparent that all is not what it appears to be. Why does the government want to rescue rival political dissidents? My gut senses something is not right here.

CJOVA_4For many fans, including myself, The Final Weapon Ash is the crown jewel of the two episodes if not the cream of the crop for all that is Crusher Joe. An ultimate weapon, the Ash (named because it can turn everything to… ash), is under the care of a female officer who is captured by a rival political faction wanting to harness it’s ultimate power. Hijacking a ship and committing mutiny, the rebel faction with the female officer crash onto a planet known to have a nasty population of killer robots, the Cloakers. Our favorite Crushers are thus hired and brought in to rescue her and return the Ash to safe hands. A twist of irony is that with all the power the Ash has and represents, it is compactly contained into a mere briefcase. Talk about a big punch in a very small package! Do you want a great MacGuffin device story?

Could Crusher Joe represent sci-fi anime from the 1980s as a whole? The movie and this OVA bookend a time for most of us that defined outer space oriented sci-fi and adventure. And why I chose Crusher Joe out of the many options is because it remains in the 1980s since no remakes, or other sequels have been created past these two productions (as of the writing of this entry). Crusher Joe will forever live on as an unspoiled archetype of fun, friends, flying spaceships, having cool hair and rocking colorful jumpsuits… who could as for anything more! One final question will always remain, “Can I get a drink of water?” (watch The Final Weapon Ash to find out)

#156 : Godmars

GM_1GOD… MARS! ROKUSHIN GATTAI! I get chills every time I hear that when our hero Takeru Myojin prepares to bring together the six robots that make up the ultra cool Godmars mech. Released in 1981 during the space opera and mecha high times in the anime world, Godmars is a fine mix of the two. It’s far from a perfect mech show, or anime in general. So many anime fall into this pit trap, yet we still attach to them anyway because we found some redeeming qualities that end up resonating with us. Now strap in and get ready for one of my favorite super robot tales from way back when. This is Rokushin Gattai Godmars, often shortened to Godmars.

Godmars holds a special place in my heart in that this was the first super robot show I tackled to completion beyond the ‘Voltron’ universe (be it GoLion, Diarugger, or Voltron itself). The time had come to grow up and move beyond the usual pastures and venture forth into the lands where alternate antiquated robot shows lived. Pictures and articles at first fulfilled speculation, next came the process of tracking down media. Godmars would present itself via a VHS tape of the 1982 compilation movie. Soon the film and the entire TV show became available on the fansub circuit and became the avenue that I digested the missing parts of the Godmars storylines. … Now disc based media exists as well, an eventual purchase on the horizon… maybe?

GM_2Loosely based on an original manga (Mars) by the legendary Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Godmars turned into an epic space drama; a huge departure from it’s more Babel II-like roots. Takeru Myojin, our protagonist, is a 17 year old member of the Cosmo Crasher squad, a group dedicated to Earth’s protection during humanity’s age of heavy space exploration. This all takes places in the far off future of 1999, which for 1981 made sense, but nowadays seems a little… dated? It is 2019 when I am writing this entry and where is all the cool space travel and super hi-end technology? Back to what 1999 could have been… it seems that the Earth has encountered a race of aliens, hostile of course… why not friendly ones? An emperor named Zul, along with his Gishin empire, are determined to conquest the universe and Earth is the next stop.

GM_3It turns out Takeru is not an Earthling and is in fact originally from Gishin. He was found as a baby by his adopted father and raised on Earth… hmm… sounds like Superman. Takeru learns his true identity is Mars and that he also has ESP abilities. So he is an esper?… yet another late 70s/early 80s trope. That and he soon learns he has a guardian robot which he can pilot as well, Gaia. OK then, I wonder if he has any surviving family on Gishin? Turns out he has a twin brother, Marg. Wow, talk about a lot of elements for a run of the mill mecha series! Plus let’s not forget the big bot of Godmars as well. Takeru while piloting Gaia combines with five other robots to create this nicely designed piece of engineering. The only thing that is missing here is a romantic element… and Godmars has that as well, via the conflicted character of Rosee (pronounced Ro-zay). Lots and lots of ingredients in this stew of a series… and this is only the first of three story arcs.

GM_4It is Takeru Myojin for me that makes Godmars special. He is not the usual mecha/shonen archetypal character. Neither the funny goof ball, nor the hotshot masculine tough guy, or even the bratty complainer, Takeru is at the other end of the spectrum being more sensitive and gentle. A nice change of pace and a great way to show masculinity can have a tender side. On the other side of the fence, my only real issue with the show was that the romantic elements and sparks between Takeru and Rosee are never really flushed out. and even though this is a shonen action show, I really wanted to see at least one kiss between these two… just one! Not the end of the world, but I am a sucker for anime couples… maybe there is some fan fiction somewhere?

While it was not a gateway drug, Godmars became for me a crucial next step into my journeys into classic mecha anime. The heavy melodrama and space opera were key elements I needed at that time of my fandom as this was just the answer to my many questions needing a solution. The only thing is that from one would come many more series to watch, yet I never forgot what Godmars showed me in the beginning and I still enjoy a watch from time to time.

#155 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Space Chapter

YSC_1The distances between stars or planets can be compared to some of the relationships we have with the closest people we see on a daily basis; many times it can be vast and wide. How well do we really know each other by way of how each of us truly feels about each other? A more intriguing thought, what secrets do we conceal, or what elements from our past do we struggle with that haunt us and affect our current relationships? The final production of Madhouse’s adaptations of Osamu Tezuka’s collective Phoenix manga, The Space Chapter, would leave historic Japan behind for the far future and outer space and would deal with these issues of inner space head on. The lessons of karma, duty and fate are yet again front and center stage.

YSC_2Bias here, this is my personal favorite of the three as this is the most psychological, the darkest and the most passionate in terms of relationship dynamics. As an OVA set in the far future, in deep outer space and with highly advanced technology you would think the clothes of science fiction would overtake the content of the the story’s relationship dynamics with spectacle and fantasy. The Space Chapter is a great example of science fiction done very well by integrating both and pushing the intensity even higher. Outer space can be a place where much contemplation can be observed and where isolation, or being alone, can bring out the best and worst in all of us. If Ingmar Bergman borrowed the set from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to make a movie, I think this would be the product… except in this case it is animated and not live action.

YSC_3Four passengers on an interstellar spaceship are suddenly awoken from stasis to realize that the ship they are traveling on has been hit by a meteor, or something similar. In haste they rush to find their fifth comrade who was piloting and watching over the ship had mysteriously died during their sleep. Realizing the damage is beyond repair, they all decide to all abandon ship in separate escape capsules. Now adrift in space alone with limited air and food, the situation becomes one of survival and opening up about their mysterious fifth crew member. Everyone had a different story to tell. He was rumored to be immortal and forever young. He also seemed to be an android from medical examinations. There were even romantic feelings between him and the lone female crew member. His last words left in the ships log struck a note of fear in the others, someone was out to kill him. Who could it be?

YSC_4To add more drama to our story a mysterious fifth capsule appears and catches up with the other four belonging to the fallen mystery man, including signs of a passenger. One by one the original four members would be reduced to two leaving the remaining duo to land on a mysterious planet. From here the story’s mysteries begin to twist even more with the ultimate truths coming out. … and what of our friend the phoenix? She is most definitely here and is a very integral part of the story as she has a very special relationship with our mysterious crew member. The lessons of karma and balance abound with his past as we see the corruption of what was a good innocent man showing a side of evil that we wish did not exist in humanity.

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Wicked City, Ninja Scroll), the inclusion of his personal touch is seen throughout the OVA, minus the super heavy action he is often noted for. The stylized character designs add a layer of maturity to Tezuka’s originals and mixed with Madhouse’s signature heavy use of limited color (blue for this OVA) in the capsule scenes and stark lighting add to this production’s intensity. While this may have been the final outing for Phoenix in the 1980s it would not be the last overall (the 13 episode TV series from the early 2000s is great!). Osamu Tezuka’s work is key and essential for all of us who regard ourselves as fans of Japanese animation. This trilogy as a whole (Karma Chapter and Yamato Chapter) is one of the best examples of the output from the 1980s and is finally now a part of the Classic Anime Museum. It has been a long time coming.

#152 : Salamander

Salamander_1Not very often one sees the Konami logo making an entrance before the start of an anime. Video games most definitely as Konami created many a classic for early consoles during the 1980s and 1990s, but an anime… what’s the catch? Could it be an anime based on a video game in Konami’s library? Obviously. Anime as a promotional tie in is nothing new and with Konami’s Salamander (Life Force for the NES) a three episode OVA would be commissioned to begin release in 1988. So we have an anime based off of a space ship shooter? A schmup? Work with your strengths here add some heroic characters, space opera and a little character development and you get a production that is actually pretty good.

Salamander_2While the video game of Salamander lays down the foundation of this anime with attacking an alien threat while piloting the ever well designed Vic Viper space craft, other influences would also color the anime into a more flushed out production. Why not add in references to Salamander’s fellow siblings Gradius  and Gradius II: GOFER no Yabou as well. Plus lets include veteran director Hisayuki Toriumi and Studio Pierrot for production and character designs by Haruhiko Mikimoto (nice choice!) to polish off this package. Salamander is solid 1980s space opera complete with the look and feel one would expect from the era and best of all you don’t have to be a fan of video games. Now let’s see how this plot unfolds!

Salamander_3Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey we begin with mysterious black monoliths, except these look like the giant stone statues found on Easter Island. Legend states that these protect the planet Latis from a sleeping fire dragon. This dragon has ties with an invading power, the Bacterian of the planet Salamander and recently on the planet Gradius, three young heroes defeated this power. Latis’ prince Lord British (nice name) calls forth these three fighters even though the relations between Latis and Gradius are difficult at best. Arriving in Vic Vipers, our heroes Dan, Eddie and Stephanie make their entrance in front of the regal Lord British. Sounds fairly ordinary at first except Eddie and Stephanie have some baggage from the past which become major plot points. Eddie’s family has ties to the planet Latis and Stephanie mourns the loss of her father from the invasion on their home world of Gradius. Instead of being just a flash and dazzle showing of aerial acrobatics and dogfighting, we get character drama, which I can be sure was not part of the original video gaming experience.

The following two episodes bookend the opener. Episode two acts as a prequel, tying up unfinished business that was hinted at previously, and episode three delivers a subsequent sequel and finale. Being based on space ship shooters it is nice to sit back and relax for once instead of being in intense in the moment. Let the pros handle this one! And maybe it is just me, but Salamander does feel a little slow. Watching the first episode alone is enough of a story in and of itself and then adding in the final two gives more depth, but kind of repeats similar themes, characters and stories already. Maybe I am being a little too critical since I have seen my fair share and a half of space opera anime and know many of the tropes familiar with the genre. That being said, Salamander is still well above the upper end of average.

Salamander_4Cast in the same era as other space opera OVAs like Gunbuster and Dangaioh, Salamander is a worthy recommendation if you can get a hold of it. My initial draw to Salamander were the Mikimoto character designs. As a fan of his work I do my best to track down all that I can to see those tried and true sparkling eyes again and again that he is known for. I won’t lie, this OVA for me is all about the visual appeal. Ironically this anime also led me to later give Gradius a try on the NES; a fun game. As of this writing I have not tried Salamander/Life Force, maybe in the future. And just in case you are wondering… the famous ‘Konami Code’ will not work with this OVA. No free power ups, or 30 extra lives this time round.

#150 : Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise

I remember an old trailer for this movie from the VHS era… “Another time, another land, another chance…” … a very generic and perhaps simple saying, but in terms of the 1987 film Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (long title?), it fits perfectly. This movie is very familiar, very foreign, very optimistic, very nostalgic and very, very well done in terms of craft from the writing to the drawing and even the animation itself. A highlight and perhaps one of the top tier examples of Japan’s output from the 1980s… Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise is still a classic among classics.

WoH_1Before the likes of Gurren Lagann, FLCL, some little franchise by the name of Evangelion and even Gunbuster (GUNBUSTA!), a studio by the name of Gainax was a group of young upstart animators, artists and otakus who had the entrepreneurial spirit to make anime there own way. They earned their reputation from creating several short films made at conventions which exuded the love and obsession for all that was anime and science fiction that permeated their youths. Certain early OVAs would feature these young artists and often times the Chocolate Panic Picture Show is sited as their first commercial project. Maybe, or maybe not? Yet the production that cemented Gainax as a studio and gave birth to the studio we know today was Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. Enter a time when a bunch of upstarts could coax funds from the likes of Bandai and create something completely out of left field. Anything is possible!

WoH_2Many titles from the 1980s are often significant of the era, they are time capsules and in many ways are dated to that particular present moment. Not a bad thing, but very true in many cases. Then you have a select group that go beyond the convention of being stuck in time. This is the truest definition of what a classic is, something that transcends time. The act of being timeless, not bound to the past, but instead relevant and presentable in the present. The Wings of Honnêamise does this by the fact that it is it’s own world, a creation onto itself that looks one part old, some parts new, a little East, a little West, very familiar and unlimitedly foreign. Is this even Earth? Perhaps during the time of Atlantis, or Lemuria, or maybe an alternate dimension of time and space that could be now? If ever there is strength to storytelling is the world building that surrounds the plot and the characters. The world of The Wings of Honnêamise is second to none, in terms of setting, artistic detail, color and even sound (including the musical soundtrack). This is a fully functional organism that is complete.

WoH_3The story tells the rise of a young man, Shiro Lhadatt, who comes from ordinary and plain beginnings. He is nothing special, not too smart, or super heroic. His only passion is to fly jet aircraft and with his average, if not lackluster credentials, he ends up instead in the Space Force, who for the time being are just a rag tag group of men who don’t fit into standard military zeitgeist. Luck would change for Shiro when he meets a fundamentalist girl handing out religious pamphlets. Shiro, who being a red blooded young man, has more interest in the girl than her philosophies, but this soon changes. He soon finds purpose, both from the girl’s literature, but also the hardships she faces as well. He wants to achieve something, become a greater human being and this leads him to volunteer to become the first astronaut.

WoH_4In between insane training, a growing celebrity personalty, assignation attempts, the rumors that war may break out and a bowing to personal desires Shiro partakes one night with the girl he likes, he matures and grows his perspective in regards to what he is doing both as an astronaut, but also as a member of the human race. Combined with the high quality artistry, Shiro’s journey to space is a critical high point for anime, though not the most commercially successful. The Wings of Honnêamise is a large scale film that climaxes on the launch of Shiro into the upper and outer atmospheres, yet that does not eclipse the plot. Shiro’s monologue while in orbit becomes the capstone, the nice ribbon to tie up the package and gives us hope that someday we can go beyond our physical ties of our lives and reach for a goal that may be one part crazy and one part inspiring.

The Wings of Honnêamise is beloved by many and I give it the highest respect if only for the visual presentation, yet there is so much more as well. Due to the fact that I don’t have the love to repeatedly rewatch this film I still give it the highest marks for being what could have been a perfect moment for the Japanese animation industry. Gainax would continue on and create many popular and well known productions, but never again would they make anything as close to Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise.

#149 : Space Fantasia: 2001 Nights

How hard do you like your sci-fi? Aliens, fancy costumes, or flashy warp driving all around the universe have a place, but for this entry I will to put all that into a corner for just a moment. Let instead examine something more humane, slower paced and based in a probable future reality with technology that seems just around the corner. Something more based on the likes of Issac Assimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, or Stanislav Lem. In 1987 a now rare and often over looked one off release would provide answers to the questions stated. I present you with Space Fantasia: 2001 Nights.

2001N_1What if 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Solaris (and I am talking the original Soviet version) could have their essences juiced into the form of 1980s Japanese animation? Space Fantasia: 2001 Nights is beautiful looking for a simple OVA, with those Akio Sugino characters and the craft of TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha), that speaks of science fiction for a more mature palette. Yet 2001 Nights does not hold a candle to Kubrick’s 2001 or Tarkovsky’s Solaris, but it works in a more limited space. Both of these live action films in my opinion are sublime masterpieces though also very slow and tough to swallow at times. True auteur genius at work! So an outright comparison may be unfair, but it will be a starting point. On a personal note 2001 (Kubrick’s) is still one of my all time favorite films so when I found an anime called 2001 Nights I had to give it a try. And what I found was a story about hope, ambition and struggle all guised under the moniker of the true bond of love within one’s family.

2001N_2Could this be an odd play on the story Swiss Family Robinson? The story of 2001 Nights surrounds a family named Robinson… suprise. We begin with a married couple who volunteers frozen sperm and eggs that are sent on a far intergalactic voyage to populate a new planet since Earth is in it’s closing chapters. All the eventual offspring travel aboard a spaceship tied to a comet… a very clever way to travel. One by one the children are born giving a final total of 23, that eventually is cut by one due to a contracted illness. Once the spacecraft lands these 22 children are given an unspoiled utopia of a planet, a natural sight to be seen. The Robinson’s meanwhile have one child on Earth as well and he eventually plays into the role of the plot that by the end all becomes full circle.

2001N_32001 Nights shows a true testament of faith and belief in something higher than one’s self. A spiritual essence that we are not alone and someone is always watching out for you. And not whatever you call “God”, or aliens, but something more simple. Call it just mom and dad, or big brother. All life begins with a dream and in 2001 Nights the dream of growing beyond the limitations of a polluted Earth to start again fresh and unspoiled takes the ultimate paramount. Man playing “God”? Or maybe Man as the divine image of the essence of “God”, the universe, the great creator just continuing the very process that very beganoh so long ago. A new “Genesis” perhaps in the garden of not Eden, but Ozma instead?

2001N_4Originally based on the also named manga of 2001 Nights, the anime version takes a small bite out of the much larger story. Or perhaps, this is one plot interspersed in with several more that may end up all being one story in the end? The Robinson family’s tale is among these stories and I can admit this as I have a fragment of the 2001 Nights original release from VIZ. Some say the manga is better, but if you take the time to rewatch this hour long OVA a couple times, and connect the dots from previous viewings, you will begin to see the magic unfold. 2001 Nights is a treat and a blessing to those of us who still yearn for science fiction, space travel and wondering what is out there in the big unknown darkness, but have grown to accept more mature storytelling tastes.

#138 : Gall Force: Eternal Story

What ever happened to our old friend Gall Force? Debuting in 1986 with a feature film that spun off into a pairing of direct single release OVA sequels and then a couple more larger arc OVA series, Gall Force seemed to become a major player in anime. Then quiet arose over the landscape and Gall Force faded away into the sunset. It’s time to come out of retirement ladies, we miss you! To get a foot hold and get reacquainted with this series as a whole we have to start from the very beginning. Let us return once again to the maiden voyage to the 9th star system with Gall Force: Eternal Story.

GFES_1All is war in the galaxy. It has been for a long, long, long time. Two factions fight it out to the death with their huge armadas of spaceships that fire laser beams that take up half the real estate of your viewing screen. This is the story of the Solenoids vs. the Paranoids. Wound coil magnets vs. people who are extremely afraid, or perhaps Black Sabbath fans? … “Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind, People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time” … Not exactly, but seriously, where do you kids come up with this stuff? No, this is more like… the battle of the sexes… in DEEP SPACE! The Paranoids (ugly parasitic monstrosities of aliens), being the masculine and the Solenoids (a race of women that look very ‘familiar’?), the feminine.

GFES_2Gall Force: Eternal Story is not my favorite anime of all time by a long shot, but it is one I enjoy watching for the fun of it. This was one of those titles that was part of the steady diet of titles that solidified my love for Japanese animation. It’s a sci-fi homage of everything we loved about space and adventuring through the galaxies all thrown into one. This is a film that borrows much from earlier titles in anime, but also live action references such as: Star Wars, Alien, 2001 and Star Trek. It’s a film that defines all that is generic and cheesy, but pulls it off so well that it’s classic. Even the English dub gives the movie so much character. Gall Force: Eternal Story is a film where everything falls apart in order to give birth to something new and fresh. One trial after another hits our heroines and slowly one by one they eventually bite the dust. And yet would you believe that this movie does ends on a happier note?

GFES_3Our protagonists are a group of seven Solenoid soldiers whose mission is to pilot their vessel, the Star Leaf, to the 9th system to defend a new world for colonization from the Paranoids, Chaos. Along the journey Eluza, Rabby, Lufy (my fav!), Catty, Pony, Patty, and Rumy run into several obstacles including repairing a part of the ship to activate the warp drive (which also meant a scary trek into the belly of space), a battle with the Paranoids, fighting a stow away monster and eventually… childbirth! An interesting voyage isn’t it? I mentioned earlier how the girls all look very ‘familiar’, this is due to the fact that they were designed by Kenichi Sonoda. These seven girls all prototypical examples of his character stylings, which were also featured in Wanna-Be’s and Bubblegum Crisis, both being early work Sonoda did at AIC along with the Gall Force series.

GFES_4I have a weird theory about Gall Force: Eternal Story… maybe it’s… maybe it’s… our true origin story? This will make sense when you see the film in whole and make it all the way to the end. To put this into perspective, a child is born from the mating of the Paranoids and the Solenoids and that child along with one of the girls are the sole survivors to start a whole new evolution. A whole new race, a new beginning. Kind of like Adam and Eve? Maybe Gall Force: Eternal Story is the opening parts of Genesis from the Bible? … In the beginning there was void and war and laser blasts covered the deep of space. And then God spoke and said, “Cut out the fighting kids and have a baby instead!” … I dunno, it makes sense to me, what do you think?