#211 : Arei no Kagami: Way to the Virgin Space

Do you believe the universe has an edge where beyond that boundary is untouched, pure… virginal?. If space and the universe are infinite, how can there be an edge? We now are about to enter the realm of imaginative sci-fi space fantasy… rules and reason, yeah let’s leave that at the door. Ever hear of Arei no Kagami: Way to the Virgin Space? Like many obscure titles from the 1980s this was an unknown for me as well, but something about Arei no Kagami invited me in with something very familiar.

AnK_1Upon quick glance of the characters one who is in the know would easily recognize that Arei no Kagami is a part of Leiji Matsumoto’s portfolio of work. His hallmark style surrounds the visual appeal of the likes such as Galaxy Express 999 and Queen Millennia, amongst many others, but Arei no Kagami has many other similarities. A young boy in the company of a beautiful blonde woman on a sci-fi themed journey is a common theme expressed in the other two Matsumoto productions, but for Arei no Kagami we see a variation with an auburn female lead instead, Maya. Along with her is the young Meguru and both of them escape a planet torn apart by war to search for the promised land, the edge of the universe, Arei. Onboard as well is a stowaway android, Zero, who also yearns to find this special zone.

AnK_2Created specifically for Expo ’85, The International Exposition, Tsukuba, Japan, 1985, Arei no Kagami would fit into the future oriented theme of the event. And while progress and the hope of things to come were the main focus, Arei no Kagami would also question much about humanity’s past actions. The dark side of war, hatred and mistreatment towards the environment and other humans would be brought forth to our trio of space explorers who must defend the human race’s more redeeming qualities. Architecture, the arts and advancements in science and philosophies would be presented as a counterpoint. Yet the entry into the virgin space of the universe demands the most noble of hearts… can these three characters pass the test of showing that the human race is far more than our past sins?

AnK_3Matsumoto’s Arei no Kagami was a fellow classmate to his former Yamato partner Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight (Oh! ODEEN!). And as different as both men are (artist vs. businessman literally), both productions are literally… light years apart in many ways. Arei no Kagami is short (20–25 minutes), a concise story and has a feeling of conclusion. You feel in many ways you made it to the final destination intended. Odin is two plus hours long, confusing, over complicated and end ups going nowhere. I am still “Searching for Odin my love” like many of us. Matsumoto was always the stronger storyteller of the two and while Arei no Kagami is very simple and kind of generic, it does what it does well with a limited time span.

#209 : SilverHawks

Now this may just be me, but these pre-intro trailers really spoil the plot of each episode! … Are you a hardcore 80s cartoon fan? Several 80s creations have had life outside the decade either by nostalgia, reinvention, or a combination or the two. Many more exist as rumors, or more like a secret code that big kids like us never grow tired of. I pull a couple DVDs off the shelf and after gazing at the covers remember many things, but will they still hold up in terms of entertainment? Fun, adventure and deep space science fiction on today’s episode of The Classic Anime Museum… with… SilverHawks.

SH_11986… September 8, a Monday afternoon… If I am doing my math right I was in the beginning stages of the second grade in my elementary school years when a new cartoon would catch my eye. If memory serves me correctly I had anticipated the arrival of the SilverHawks for a couple of weeks knowing that it was created by the same folks behind ThunderCats and it was set in space this time. Seven year old me was drooling at the mouth as SilverHawks would become one of my favorite shows at the time hitting crucial buttons of joy. Cyborg soldiers, “partly metal, partly real” who act like the new sheriffs in town who take on the criminal gang of Mon-Star. And those SilverHawks were buff as all hell, true hard bodies. Do you remember the workout videos featuring Tamilee Webb? Buns of Steel, Abs of Steel, etc.…Yeah that sounds like the SilverHawks to me!

SH_2Sci-fi obsessed as we were in the 1980s, SilverHawks was very typical of depicting a future with high technology, space travel and alien encounters. Star Wars looked to be a huge influence, but also the American comic book hero character. Though based on a toyline, SilverHawks exudes the Marvel and DC type of characters who work as a team: X-Men, Fantastic Four, or Justice League. And while I am sure anime influence may not have been top on the listing I can compare the SilverHawks to sentai groups like Gatchaman, or more appropriately to the cyborgs of Cyborg 009. Once completely human both the cyborg soldiers of Cyborg 009 and the SilverHawks have been enhanced to become the ultimate fighting machines. Of course for Cyborg 009 this was done outside the characters’ wills for a criminal organization. These nine would rebel to fight against their creator. SilverHawks featured volunteers who fight for justice and peace and all the usual American apple pie sort of things that in reality is not always the picture perfect truth.

SH_3Every show needs some sort of identity markers from logo and typography, toys, characters, plot points and even a mascot at times. For SilverHawks the concept of mascot became legendary with the cybernetic enhanced Tally-Hawk. How many times did I want his talons to grip my forearm as I stare into his eyes; such a beautiful bird. Hawks and birds of prey in general have always been a personal favorite for me. The elegant grace, power and intensity of these birds are truly beautiful. While SilverHawks featured many characters from the heroic, to the diabolical, to the sly and even the goofy, none compare to Tally-Hawk whose only dialogue was a screech that said more than the length of a Russian novel. If Tally-Hawk was a Pokemon, I choose you!

SH_4Like many other Rankin/Bass titles, the design and pre-production was done in the U.S. while the heavy lifting of paint and pen ended up with a Japanese studio. In the case of the mid-1980s this was Pacific Animation Corporation. Though this show may not technically be anime in name it is certainly in spirit. Watch the opening credit sequence as an example. With ThunderCats lightning struck in a bottle in terms of success and in many ways SilverHawks would ride that wave as a sort of phase two. Does this show still hold up for me today? Yes and no. The early episodes still hold merit in my fandom, but the overall mythology lacks the breadth of ThunderCats and often times SilverHawks is a one trick pony that repeats itself. Yet as a single ride pony show it still is fun, in short bursts… “Ya know what I mean.” … a little nod to you Seymour 😉

#206 : The Transformers: Super-God Masterforce

More classic tales of the original 1980s G1 The Transformers from the vaults of Japan!; hip hip hooray! I first want to give the utmost thanks to Japan for not giving up on The Transformers in the late 1980s. In America the tastes were changing, how fickle, and I am sure many marketing adults wanted to pump different toylines into the market, but hey… don’t mess with The Transformers, or fans of the original storyline. Japan began a second original G1 series in 1988 after the previous year’s The Headmasters and while it has The Transformers name, in terms of plot, it really jumped the shark at times. Yet The Transformers: Super-God Masterforce proved to be a strong successor.

TF_SGM_1Often when we think of The Transformers, we expect a mecha show about sentient robots. For Super-God Masterforce we insert a major twist. Humans have played a major role in The Transformers from the beginning. Spike and Sparkplug and then Carly and Daniel were key side characters from the original American version. The concept of combining the human with the machine was also explored in episodes like Autobot Spike and Almost Human. For the American fourth season, The Rebirth trilogy, the Headmasters and Targetmasters were humans and humanoids in robotic suits that allowed them to become the heads, or weapons for their corresponding Autobot and Deception machines. Japan meanwhile went with a differing mythology for The Headmasters as human sized Cybertrons (Autobots) and Destrons (Decepticons) would use larger bodies (transtectors) in an attempt to survive in their particular surrounding.

TF_SGM_2Now we move onto Super-God Masterforce where the human element of being part of the machine would take full fruit in Japan. We begin with the Pretenders who were life sized real honest to goodness Transformers, that have an alternate form of either a human (Cybertron), or demon (Destron). Maybe they used the same shrinking technology that Soundwave and Blaster had, or maybe they are cousins of Ultraman? Talk about ‘Robots in Disguise’… literally. Then we have the Headmaster Juniors which take two sets of three kids and give them fancy suits which become the heads of transactors via magic bracelets. Sounds a little like henshin meets the American Rebirth version of the Headmasters characters. And then you have Godmasters, or Powermasters in the west, who via magic bracelets gain fancy suits to turn into the engine’s of transtectors. Humans piloting robots… you know if this show was not licensed as The Transformers, this could have been like many other run of the mill mecha shows?

TF_SGM_3While Super-God Masterforce is a direct followup to the previous shows, there are some odd plot holes. First, there hardly is a mention of the back history of The Transformers including: the exodus from the planet Cybertron, or the wars from the American G1 shows. The Headmasters is occasionally referenced with the concept of Cybertrons fighting in space and a short communication from Chromodome. Then we get introduced to the new leader of the Cybertrons, Ginrai, who looks an awful lot like Optimus Prime. Didn’t he die again in The Headmasters? So… how did a red semi truck that transforms into the most iconic robot of the entire franchise end up again on Earth to be found by a young truck driver? I have no idea, but we have to roll with it I suppose. While Super-God Masterforce may make you wonder what happened to all the back story I may conclude that maybe this is an alternative universe? One truth to Super-God Masterforce is that it never takes itself seriously, so maybe I shouldn’t with my expectations for this show.

TF_SGM_4Feeling my inner child/longtime fan resonate with this show could not be denied. I too could finally become one of The Transformers, even though I am like you, a human being. While Super-God Masterforce really goes out on a limb in certain categories to what we consider the usual framework of The Transformers universe it certainly worked. And in the end all of the Transformers would revert to sentient robots. My only wish is that I would like to have a pair of those magical bracelets for myself. Then I could yell out, “MASTA-FORCE!” and become like many of my heroes. But as a substitute I and you have this show, which will suffice for now… until I move onto the third series… The Transformers: Victory.