#178 : Blue Comet SPT Layzner (OVA Series)

Sunrise and mecha usually equate to the ever present name Gundam. As a studio Sunrise has a long resume of mecha titles. Some have a famous pedigree and many are only known by a select few who yearn to go beyond the bigger names. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is not a new topic here at CAM. I reviewed the TV series here way back when I was getting started and SPT Layzner needs another shout out. Beyond it’s short comings and twist in plot in the middle of the series, I believe this is one of the best mecha titles of the 1980s. Early cancellation would create problems in finishing the story, but a brilliant solution was available for SPT Layzner. The year was 1986 and direct to video releases were a growing market. Blue Comet SPT Layzner would end it’s sojourn as an OVA.

LayzOVA_1I debated if it was worth the time to review this OVA version of the Layzner story as a separate entry from the TV series. So much of what is presented is a condensed retelling of what is familiar if you have seen the previous incarnation. Of the three episodes, the first two: Eiji 1996 and Le Caine 1999, could be skipped as there is really nothing new under this sun. It is the third episode, Seal 2000, where we find missing links to the rushed ending of the former TV series. Interspersed between some familiar scenes of action and drama we find the hidden passages that make this third episode a more concise and well rounded finale. Much like another Sunrise property Ideon, the TV series would be rushed at the end and would have a second chance of telling the true ending in the form of feature films. All is now complete for Layzner, no stone unturned. That being said, while there is a lot of recognizable sameness, this OVA version is in a small way original to the TV series.

LayzOVA_2Episode one tells the story of the first arc, which for my money is one of the greatest mecha story arcs I have ever seen. Too bad it was condensed heavily. The once far future of 1996, which from 1985 eyes was still a possibility, features a group of students that land on Mars. Suddenly there is an attack by unknown mechs (Layzners) featuring one renegade blue robot defending the Earthlings. Piloted by the troubled Eiji Asuka, he eventually becomes an ally to the group of students as the struggle to survive on Mars and eventually find a way back home to Earth.

LayzOVA_3Episode two recalls the second arc, which jumps the shark from space mecha action and turns into dystopian dictatorship in a cross between Blade Runner and Fist of the North Star. We rejoin our cast of heroes three years into the future. Eventually they reunite to combat the established Gradosian empire who invaded the Earth after defeat at the end of the first arc. The signature Blue Layzner also returns along with Eiji as they now continue their rebellion and solve the mystery of the new Maiden of Cuzco. A new nemesis is also introduced, Le Caine, whose ambition for power blinds his judgement. Episode three finalizes the second story arc and can act as a substitute for the final couple episodes of the TV series. Here we learn of the link between the peoples of Earth and Grados, traverse to South America, Nazca, Peru to be precise, to find the great Seal of Grados and enjoy plenty of heavy mecha action. The final showdown between Eiji and Le Caine is the pinnacle of this episode.

LayzOVA_4You can view this OVA as a shorthand version instead of diving completely into the TV series, almost like Cliff Notes. Remember that much of the drama, character development and finer details will be lost if you take the OVA path over the TV series. Blue Comet SPT Layzner is best viewed by watching the TV series first and then following up with this OVA to tie up loose ends. The shorter path sometimes is the more tempting, but often will lead to missed opportunities. … Eiji may you continue to run like Melos on your “Lonely Way”.

#177 : Dancougar: Requiem for the Victims

Hold on! Thirty eight episodes and this story I have been watching for some time is not over yet!? … Often times a series has a proper ending, or some kind of closure that can be taken care of in terms of a follow-up movie, or OVA to iron out details that seemed odd or rushed. Yet not for the 1985 mecha series Dancougar. Maybe the show was cancelled, or perhaps there was a need for more creative freedom to allow for the final installment to eventually surface as an episode length OVA? The story is far from over, for we must now tie up all these loose ends from the previous 38 episodes to conclude with Dancougar: Requiem for the Victims.

Dan_Req_1Save the final boss fights for last and make it really good! The television series had a lot of potential and I tried to be fair towards it in my initial review, but seeing a lot of mecha anime, I felt this has a lot of super robot re-hatching that had been in place since the mid 1970s that by 1985 was a little derivative. The look of the show is very spot on for the period, still I personally recommend other mech titles from 1985 in terms of watching priority: Zeta Gundam and SPT Layzner. Still, Dancougar had an attitude that was appealing, nice character designs and a fine robot that would have made a great toy to promote. Now after 38 episodes of story we find the Cyber Beast Force with two remaining obstacles to complete before a proper ending could be declared. Shinobu, Sara (still has awesome hair!), Ryo and Masato have to take down long time arch rival Death Gaia and Emperor Muge himself to rid the Earth of the tyranny of the Zorbados Empire.

Dan_Req_2The choice of ending the show as a single shot OVA is an interesting one. Perhaps the creative freedom I mentioned before was a strong reason for this decision. Not being tied to the restrictions, or standards of content for television allowed a greater amount of creativity. Also the possibility of having a higher budget could yield a more polished product… this is a nice looking production. Yet again, this was the mid 1980s and the OVA market was a new and fresh, as well as lucrative market to release animation to the public. You can watch the initial episode run for free, but for the finale, you’ll have to pay for it. For great mecha action, it’s worth the price.

Dan_Req_3It has been some time since seeing the TV series and watching Requiem for the Victims was a breathe of fresh air that reminded me of what I enjoyed in Dancougar proper beyond any personal issues. Also Requiem for the Victims accomplished what it set out to do, which was finish the Dancougar story in a very dramatic fashion… just who were the real victors in this war? As always in war, both sides lose to a certain degree even if one side declares a triumphant declaration. Ironically though, Requiem for the Victims would would not be the final finish for Dancougar as a franchise; out of endings come new beginnings.

#175 : Adieu Galaxy Express 999

When is a goodbye not a finale? Galaxy Express 999 as an anime franchise was ready by 1981 to give it’s swan song. Yet franchises that are often retired never really sit on their laurels for long. Sci-fi from the past seems to be reinterpreted every generation, or decade like clockwork nowadays. How times have changed, maybe sci-fi and comic heroes are immortal? But let’s look through the lens of 1981 for a moment. Galaxy Express 999 debuted on television in 1978 bringing with it a film adaptation the next year. The TV series was winding down, or perhaps by now completed leaving Tetsuro’s journey with Maetal in full completion. And while that story did complete its sojourn, 1981 would bring a ‘once’ final goodbye to our familiar friends with a second motion picture, Adieu Galaxy Express 999.

AGE999_1A personal story about myself and this film… the first time I watched Adieu Galaxy Express 999 a handful of years ago I was in the middle of my long dating phase with everything Leiji Matsumoto. I watched all that I could featuring his work that I could get my hands on: Captain Harlock (the original 1978 TV series, plus the other variants I could find), The Cockpit, Interstella 5555, Space Battleship Yamato (Series I, II and the five original movies… Series III came later) and of course Galaxy Express 999. Watching a select grouping of the TV episodes and then the first motion picture, I finally moved onto Adieu. Ironically like a teenager dumped on prom night, I was a crying mess during the first 45 minutes of Adieu… why? Well it goes something like this…

AGE999_2Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a dark film; themes of war and death are all around. So begins our story with Tetsuro allying himself with a band of renegade soldiers desperately trying to survive against an onslaught of mechanical androidic foes. Tetsuro is more or less on his own, until his past calls him back in the form of a pendant. A familiar voice calls out of a tiny speaker telling him to find and board that great legendary locomotive once again, the 999. The voice belongs to the most beautiful woman in all the universe, whose black fur dress, jacket and hat are synonymous with her ankle length blond hair and massive eyelashes. Maetel! She’s still alive? Will she be on the 999 waiting for Tetsuro? With aid from his guerilla friends, Tetsuro makes his way to the station to meet that wondrous train and boards greeting the familiar Conductor as they trek towards an unknown journey. … So where is Maetel?

AGE999_3While sobbing profusely because of Maetel’s absense and Tetsuro with being all alone, eventually our cast lands on La Metal where Tetsuro again has to dodge his away against the machine empire. He meets a friend, Meowdar and hears a rumor that the once defeated machine empire of Queen Promethium never truly ended and that her successor is none other than Maetel herself. Could this be true? In a twist of irony before leaving La Metal who should appear in the smoke and haze of 999’s wake? The lady in black herself, who still is the most elegantly dressed woman in all of anime. Maetel has returned, the tears are now really flowing, but soon dry up in a sense of relief. One can sense hesitation within Maetel and also with Tetsuro as there are too many open ended questions. Let’s add a third wheel into this equation with a man named Faust, who also shares a destiny with Tetsuro and Maetel. So much mystery and far too many secrets… will they all be revealed by the end of the film?

AGE999_4Adieu Galaxy Express 999 is a proper sequel to the first movie, and perhaps the TV series as well, that in many ways just reiterates many of the elements of before as if Galaxy Express 999 proper was just a first act. Again the plot is much darker and deeper than the original story and is amplified with Rintaro’s directorial skills. Yet I wonder if Adieu also acted as a cash in towards Star Wars’ The Empire Strikes Back? If you know the movie, you will definitely see the influence… “I’m your father”. Even so… this is the Galaxy Express 999 universe and more galactic trips on trains are always appreciated! In a way Adieu is not goodbye… more like hello.

#170 : Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone / Space Firebird 2772

1980… the height of the space opera boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s would enter a new decade. Yamato, Gundam and Galaxy Express 999 would come before and now a familiar name would throw his hat into the ring. Enter the ‘God of Manga’, Osamu Tezuka, and his first presentation of his grand myth, The Phoenix, in a full animated production. A live action film with animated segments would tell a historical account from one of the chapters of The Phoenix in 1978, but this film would be an alternate retelling of the space related chapters and 100% pure anime. Tezuka’s Phoenix anime re-workings are some of the most special anime ever made (personal opinion), but how does Phoenix 2772: Love’s Cosmozone fare?

SF_1In the far future, the Earth is in dire trouble. Over polluted, lacking resources and at the point of social collapse we find our beautiful planet at both a major crisis and a crossroads. We begin our filmic journey by following our hero, Godo, as a a test tube baby and witness his process of growing up in isolation. Eventually he is joined by a robot companion, Olga, who helps to raise him. These beginning sequences remind me of silent films, or perhaps the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with dialogue being nonexistent and fluid motion being the only storyteller… as well as the background music. Once Godo reaches full maturity, his place is to become a pilot, but this is short lived since he shows a trait of humanity by not wanting to kill innocent life. Also he has eyes on a girl who is set to wed one of the powerful elite… another no-no. This gets him into serious trouble, which leads to a prison sentence where he meets a stock in trade Tezuka archetype, the large nosed man older man and a fellow who happens to be none other than Blackjack.

SF_2Godo still believes in his mission despite the setbacks, which I have yet to devulge. That is to capture the Phoenix from which the blood can be used to give life back to the dying Earth. Eventually with the help of friends Godo escapes and sets off to find this mysterious bird. When Godo eventually comes into contact with the mythic bird of fire the true essence of the story begins to speak as Godo  learns what all protagonists in any of The Phoenix stories, that life is more precious than anything else and the love between souls is far stronger than any want or need in the name of ignorance, or power. Sacrifice and karma must be weighed in order to achieve a true sense of enlightenment and fulfillment.

SF_3The space opera sci-fi of Phoenix 2772 is well animated, as expected from the likes of Tezuka, who was Chief Director of the project… The BIG Boss! He incorporated techniques seen in his more experimental projects, which makes Phoenix 2772 unique looking amongst the other films of the time, Toward the Terra as an example. Also Tezuka’s character designs harken back to a previous era, though with updated fashion and hairstyles. All in all, a true blockbuster of a film, yet, I have to scratch my head on this portion of the Phoenix mythology. Phoenix 2772 is kind of awkward. A few of the animation sequences take on an almost comedic or fluid quality and a couple of the animal/alien characters seem to be added in for comic relief and juvenile appeal. Mixed with the epic story of finding the Phoenix and understanding true love, Phoenix 2772 can feel a little schizophrenic.

SF_4Phoenix 2772 may be the weakest entry in all of the Phoenix anime I have seen, but it is far from bad, or even average. It has it’s quirks and for some of you it may not be much of a problem, but I hold The Phoenix name very high. The trilogy from later in the decade (Karma, Yamato and Space) is some of the best anime from the 1980s (again my opinion) and I would recommend these first. Even so, at the heart of Phoenix 2772 is a tale of sacrifice, redemption and emotional drama, all qualities that make Tezuka’s Phoenix entries special. This in it’s self makes Phoenix 2772 qualify as a close second to the trilogy and a unique entry into the beginning of the decade of the 1980s.

#169 : Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora

“QUESTION!” Time to dive really deep into this pile of forgotten anime titles. Let’s investigate the bottom of this bin and find something special. Ah ha ha, nice choice. Have you ever heard of an OVA trilogy by the name of Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora? “QUESTION!” What happens when you combine a pretty heroine packing a sword and a shield, a goofy transforming sidekick, a handsome, yet cruel villain, space travel, fantasy and a pair magical jewels? You get the plot for the beginnings of an often under appreciated mid-1980s OVA series. OK, I think we have the makings for a good story here… time to watch. Popcorn please!

DDHF_1Let’s meet our beautiful heroine Miss Fandora (Fandora-sama), who so happens to be a bounty hunter by trade. She treks all over the galaxy with her partner Que, who happens to be a shapeshifter. And she always, seems to be short on money after each job. So far this sounds similar to Rumiko Takahashi’s Maris: The Chojo? Now’s the time to diverge. Part of her uniform is the red Jewel of Lupia, which is a prominent part of her crown like headdress. Did she borrow her fashion sense from She-Ra: Princess of Power? Drawing power from this jewel, and using it for the plight of what is good, she takes down each successive criminal using a sword and shield. Also the rays from the jewel bother Que in that he seems to sprout a tail that is quite reptilian. Dear sir, is your true identity that of a a dragon!? After the opening we find she has the eye on a very prized, yet elusive criminal, one Yogu-sogos. His bounty is the highest in the universe, yet his location and even his identity remain a mystery.

DDHF_2Based on a concept by Go Nagai, Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora would bear fruit under the production and vision of a little studio by the name of Kaname Production. Kaname is a studio that I love… love!, more like obsessed?… and many of their works are featured here, so why not add one more! Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora would be the second warrior maiden heroine brought to us from Kaname in 1985, the other being the Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko. Both have their character and are similar, but they are also very different in terms of story… and budget. Fandora could pass as the budget version of Yohko as Yohko’s OVA looks very cinematic and lush, while Fandora’s OVA could pass more for television standards. Yet this is not a fair comparison, that’s like comparing an apple with an pomegranate. Both offer nutrition and taste delicious, but one is more expensive in terms of cost. Yet, both can satisfy in their own way!

DDHF_3Each successive episode lays the groundwork for the last. The first episode can stand alone as a single entry and I wonder if that was the case in terms of production? We learn the basics of our characters, find out who Yogu-sogos is and end on a cliff hanger. The second episode brings in more character development with the introduction of a tragic couple’s ill fated relationship and a young boy by the name of Sohto/Soto. And yet even more action with Yogu-sogos and this one also ends on a cliff hanger. The third episode shows the resurrection of Fandora and introduces much of her secret back story, and Que’s as well, which leads to the climatic ending! And sorry, no cliffhanger this time round. The pacing is well done and each successful episode builds from the last, showing Fandora, Que and Yogu-sogos as a well rounded trio for our main cast by the end.

DDHF_4Truth be told, this was one Kaname Production title that I had on the back burner for some time and much like anything from that studio, I really like it. Though Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora does not hold a candle to Kaname’s masterpiece, Windaria, it is still a fun action cartoon with a strong protagonist that has those signature eyes associated with Kaname’s female characters. The only thing I scratch my head about is why is it called Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora? Fandora is the heroine, a hunter is her job and dimensions are what she and Que warp through to catch crooks… where is the dream part?

#167 : Robotech

In the year 1985, inside a basic home in a small town of the Midwestern U.S., a single television show that aired the afternoons I got home from school would alter the course of my personal history… as an anime fan to be precise. I remember very well the time was 4:00 pm and the channel on the television would land on the number 11 and for a half hour from Monday to Friday, it would be time to watch this odd show in the mix of a ton of other possibilities called Robotech.

RT_1Now I will be the first to admit that Robotech is not quote unquote official anime, it is in my own phrasing ‘adapted anime’. Eventually many of us who grew up with this show, would progress on to see and experience the original three series that made up Robotech (Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada), but I have not forgotten my roots. While Robotech is often poo poo-ed in some fan circles, and I can agree with all the DVD releases being a bit excessive and Harmony Gold being very stubborn, but let’s look at this show for what it was for me as a kid, a mere budding anime fan. This was my gateway drug, a very powerful one at that for my generation. Terms like anime and otaku and large scale franchises like Studio Ghibli, Pokemon and Shonen Jump were unknowns for a little kid growing up in the mid-1980s in the Midwest of the U.S. This was most likely true for you as well if you are of a similar age as myself. This was the wild west of late Generation X where we didn’t have all the fancy terminology, conventions, or even the internet. All we had was a gut sense reaction saying… you know… I really like something about THIS show.

RT_2Often times anime that is broadcast here in the west, particularly the U.S., is often reinterpreted, adapted, or perhaps censored to a certain degree. Free speech?! Robotech changed names to more Anglican terminology, or got close in translation, or just left some of them alone, took out Japanese references like text, etc., totally changed the meaning of protoculture, shoe horned three unrelated series into a single timeline and added a fresh soundtrack. … Might I say, what a fine soundtrack it still is! … And the final product, which if you take into consideration had a short time of assemblage and production, is quite well done for the time. Carl Macek, the main producer behind the show, should be given a medal for what he did to put together Robotech. He had a job to do and did the best he could. If anyone ever bad mouth’s Carl’s work on Robotech, at Streamline Pictures, or his later works, I will ask the question, what would you do if you had these tasks?

RT_3Now let’s consider what Robotech did right, or left in tact so to speak. The concepts of interracial relationships, a transgender, or gender non-conforming character and even characters showing a side of doubt, depression, or anxiety were not seen much in terms of general television in 1980s. Yet, a “kids” show had it all and opened up a world of a more diverse human experience. Characters did not go to a hospital planet when they become mortally wounded, they died! And in terms of dialogue, Robotech never talked down to you with immature of more childish language to appeal as safe to the public. It was an anomily, lightning in a bottle and even though Robotech is far from perfect (and I ask you just what is perfect?), it is at least genuine in terms of expressing a total array of human emotion and experience through the lens of sci-fi fantasy.

As an impressionable youth in the aftermath of the original Star Wars run, barraged by other cartoons and comic book super heroes, Robotech, amongst other anime at the time would become my go to for fantasy, adventure and defining a personal sense of mythology. I owe my love of anime to Robotech and I often find it ironic that even though I see Robotech as a large epic, it is unknown to many younger, or newer fans of anime. Some older fans dismiss it, some are stuck on it as the only “anime” they know and others like myself, see it as a first step into a world of wonder that continues to grow each and every day.

… and yes, I prefer the unmastered original version 🙂

For reviews on the original anime that made up Robotech:

Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross
Genesis Climber Mospeada

#164 : Locke: The Superman

LtS_1Never mind the fact that Locke is a superhero’s superhero and an esper beyond all espers. You know what I think makes Locke really cool? His hair! Anime hairspray is the best in the whole world as it can hold up any fancy stylized coiffure. An after thought film from 1984, a year which featured three blockbuster films that defined the 1980s, Locke: The Superman is a title that exudes cult status, a true outsider. It is not a title one often runs across everyday in terms of classic anime, but I am sure it will pop up from time to time for all of us if we are on searches for new or familiar titles. And yet in a way I am sure the character of Locke may find a little joy in being in a film that is not as well recognized. It fits well with his own private character.

LtS_2The history of Locke fascinates me as a quick search shows that he has origins all the way back to the 1960s as a manga franchise. Locke has been around a long time (and it is still in publication!), but he is not as common a name like say Astro Boy, Cyborg 009, Lupin III, or even Golgo 13. Much work exists, but Locke fits more into a niche category. Yet their is nothing niche about Locke: The Superman beyond being the one who gets picked last at recess. He is a mystery, a young looking man who has lived longer than many of us, who mostly lives a peaceful secluded life as often as he can. He is very wise, not big on violence and possesses great psycho-kenetic abilities that make him an enigma to some. He could rule or control the universe if he so chooses. Yet he knows he holds great esper powers and uses them only when necessary, kind of similar to Fist of the North Star’s Ken (though Ken is a martial artist). This is Locke’s fate, his karma, his knowing that true power requires responsibility.

LtS_3A young officer, Ryū Yamaki, has great interest in the hermetic Locke at the beginning of the film. He hopes to convince Locke to return to the service to help in investigating and eventually stopping one Lady Kahn from creating a great esper empire, the Millennium, a group that Lady Kahn once persuaded Locke to join some time ago. Locke of course refused, preferring the life of a sheep herder. Amongst the many training espers of Lady Kahn is a young girl named Jessica, who has both great potential as a soldier and a shadowy past where she believes Locke was the murderer of her parents. This of course was fabricated so that she could be the ultimate weapon against the powerful Locke and in many ways I feel she is as much the main protagonist as Locke. Jessica receives training from one Miss Cornelia Prim (I love that name!) and eventually meets up with Yamaki during a bought of amnesia. Que the song… “Strangers in the night, exchanging glaces…”, you get the idea? Why not add romance into an already complicated plot line of mystery, intrigue and esper superpower action? And don’t forget, awesome hair! All the great writing, and plot twists will mean nothing if one does not show off incredible locks held up with vast amount of anime hairspray! 🙂

LtS_4Locke: The Superman is a product of Nippon Animation, a studio I am more familiar with stories of history and coming of age adventures (the World Masterpiece Theater shows as examples), yet Locke is total sci-fi action. A nice showing of a diverse portfolio for a studio that I had pigeon holed into only one category. Compared to bigger films of that era, Locke feels smaller in scale in terms of art and editing. Looking a couple years out of date, or perhaps similar to a TV series in terms of production, don’t let this detract you as this is still a fine movie. Perhaps the budget may not have been as high as a Nausicaa or Macross: DYRL, but it serves its purpose very well. I see nothing wrong with adding a film showing a little grit to go against all the other highly polished options.