#224 : Lily C.A.T.

Space can be a lonely and dark place. When one is on a long interstellar space flight time can play funny things with it’s crew. Moving at light speeds puts us decades behind our home world, which begs the questions of are we really returning home? Now if that wasn’t bad enough lets add a killer virus invasion on this ship as well. Two strikes for sure, but let’s add a third. Two of the passengers brought on board are not who they say they are and one is a suspected murderer. Did I really sign up for this flight? The saving grace, at least for me, is the fact that we get a cat to join us on this trip. Thankfully this is all fiction… an OVA from 1987… Lily C.A.T.

LilyCAT_1Certain anime titles are painful for me to watch and Lily C.A.T. is one of them. Not because of the subject matter, a dark who done it mystery set aboard an interstellar spaceship, or the occasional depiction of blood, or violence to human characters. Or even the fact that this is an average run of the mill thriller sci-fi OVA that can be lobed in with a slew of other titles that are very similar. As someone who loves cats and has had cats around since my birth watching the few scenes of violence towards, or hearing, the extreme cries coming from the feline character always makes me uneasy. Seeing a cat in pain or suffering in plain bold sight hits too close to home from personal memories that just hurt. No cat should suffer, as well as anything else either.

LilyCAT_2Lily C.A.T. is often compared to the film Alien, but I also see this OVA as a combination of three anime productions as an alternative (this is my theory by the way). I see Lily C.A.T. as a mix of Gall Force: Eternal Story (which is in many ways similar to Alien), They Were 11 and Dallos. The obvious double whammy of a who is the stowaway here (They Were 11) and confronting a killer alien virus, which leaves two people left alive to start over (Gall Force), are obvious if you are familiar with these two films. But Dallos is a little more of an outsider, unless you examine the production credits. Both Dallos and Lily C.A.T. have a similar visual look as they were both made at Studio Pierrot (with differing character designers) and feature the talent of Hisayuki Toriumi, a long time veteran of the anime industry.

LilyCAT_3Toriumi’s approach for a darker and more serious sci-fi is characteristic of the earlier Dallos. But unlike Dallos, Lily C.A.T. does actually have a plot that progresses without plot holes, has an ending that has some sort of resolution and makes… SENSE! Maybe something got lost in the shuffle when production began for Dallos, or perhaps there were plot holes from the start?… hey now this one is about Lily C.A.T. remember?… Toriumi had been around for decades and is in some ways one of anime’s best directors that never gets much attention. Many of the Tatsunoko classics like Gatchaman as an example as well as Area 88, Baoh and a co-director on Mysterious Cities of Gold. Nice resume! And those character designs which are attributed to both Yasuomi Umetsu and Yoshitaka Amano are stellar mixed with the production work of Studio Pierrot.

LilyCAT_4For a thriller that mixes up a lot of ideas, Lily C.A.T. is a damn good action sci-fi drama examining relationships in a time of crisis. Of course I had my difficult moments, but I know this was all a work of fiction and no cats were really harmed in the process. Still… those cat cries are terrifying. This was also one of Streamline Pictures releases way back in the VHS era and the dub is quite good as well. Mike Reynolds as the captain is one of my favorite roles he has ever portrayed. We learn over time the secret of who this Lily C.A.T. really is and this reminds me a little of 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of the character HAL… even yet more sci-fi influences. I guess there is no harm in mixing up a lot of stuff to come up with something quite entertaining.

#221 : Starcom: The U.S. Space Force

“All Starmax and Star Wolves… Scramble!” It must be Saturday morning in 1987 and excitement is in the air from that opening statement. Do you remember Starcom: The U.S. Space Force? Oh yes, now this is what I call science fiction of the upcoming future, that may perhaps be the now(?)… how can this present day be the future promised? Part of me really wants to be a space cowboy still and yet the best I can ever get to that reality of riding in a spaceship are relegated to shows like Starcom. Yippee-ki-yay buckaroos and strap on your helmets because I’m off to the stars for this one!

Starcom_1Starcom represented one of the best toy ideas from the 1980s, regardless of gender stereotyping. While it did not have the big budget punch of say The Transformers, Cabbage Patch Kids, or LEGO, Starcom did have a certain niche that makes it still today a cult favorite. Space exploration, day to day general working equipment and also military combat all wrapped up in an almost Star Trek like future, or maybe more like Legend of the Galactic Heroes? Such a great toy line, one that I often held to what the future could become, and one that I did not have… which is ok. Motorized in strategic places and including magnets in others (including the figures’ feet!), Starcom had a lot of play value… plus no need for batteries!?!. Amazing. The only time I remember playing with these toys was at a house that belonged to a related cousin of my dad. I got along well with the two sons and on the floor was a ton of Starcom. The image is a little fuzzy, but that memory I vaguely remember was a good one.

Starcom_2Now then this is not a site about toys, what about the cartoon? As a show Starcom: The US Space Force is an interesting bird. 13 episodes in total it was a great installment for the Saturday morning lineup of the time and stood out in many ways. A large cast of characters, a broad outlook for space travel and exploration and an exciting atmosphere for what could be our future (I am still waiting!), Starcom has so much to offer. That and this is one of the best looking shows of the era and to no surprise it was animated in Japan. By TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) no less, can you see the great line work, color, lighting and events fluid movement in various camera angles? A gorgeous show… that in some ways is kind of limiting as well.

Starcom_3Now this is a personal opinion, but I think Starcom didn’t live up to it’s full potential as a cartoon. True there were only 13 episodes made, and we can take that into account, but I feel so much more could have been flushed out. The two factions of Starcom and the Shadow Force of Emperor Dark (nice hair man) never get into any real political struggles. True this was a toy show and the point was to show off all those awesome spacecrafts flying around, but really no stories depicting the a large scale drama of the two sides. The majority of the show highlights the ‘Big 3’ of Colonel’s Derringer, Griffin and Corbin (Dash, Slim and Crowbar), the three commanders of the three branches of Starcom, with only minor appearances from other Starcom members. Hey guys, share the spotlight a little… please? And then there’s the background music, which is awesome, but some of it sounds familiar to another DiC produced show. Is it me, or did DiC borrow some of the soundtrack from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors? It was good once, so why not recycle it? I mean who would know? … besides hard corps Jayce nerds (LIKE ME!)

Starcom_4Please don’t think I am trashing Starcom as a show. Despite these flaws that are more personal than anything, this show is really top notch. Visually, as I said before, it’s one of the best looking shows of the era. The writing is clever, with comedic puns that never grow old (I have a bad feeling about this!) and on the other end of the spectrum a touch of sophisticated nuance. This is classic hard sci-fi, more in line with original Gundam, with plot lines that seemed a little more mature than the usual stop the bad guys narrative. Nantucket Sleighride, Caverns of Mars and Hot Enough For You? are three great episodes that really showed the bigger potential of the Starcom universe. I still wonder when we will have the chance to live and work in space just like in Starcom? As an idealist I still believe it can happen in my lifetime!

… now I have heard that the Shadow Force logo is reminiscent of Legend of Zelda’s Triforce, but I think it looks just like LEGO’s logo for the first iteration of Blacktron, except swapping yellow for red?

#219 : Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Mystery of the Arcadia

What is it about this beautiful cosmic sailing vessel? Captain Harlock’s ship the Arcadia is more than just a space battleship, it is a symbolic representation of many things. It is a call for freedom, a freedom that is beyond what we believe that definitive concept is. It is also an oasis for those who don’t belong in greater society. It is a symbol of pure moral compassion that is disconnected from profit or power mongering disguised as a fighting machine that stands up for truth, the exact equal to Captain Harlock himself. Yet the Arcadia is also the soul of a man who put his blood, sweat and genius, as well as love, into creating this piece of art, Harlock’s friend and sidekick Tochiro Oyama. All this and more is on display in a miniature feature film released during the original 1978 TV series and four years before the epic Arcadia of My Youth known simply as Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Mystery of the Arcadia.

… that’s a long title? …

H_MotA_1Rather than tell a new story, Mystery of the Arcadia would base its plot on an adaptation of the 13th episode of Space Pirate Captain Harlock known as Witch Castle in the Sea of Death, or The Castle of Evil in the Sea of Death (whichever translation you prefer). This is stated over many areas of the internet and I did check to see if this was true by pulling the TV series DVD set off of my shelf… yes, it is a variation for sure. Harlock is very pensive, unsure what course of action to take next until the distant echoes of an ocarina can be heard from the Earth all the way out in space. I love the imagination of Leiji Matsumoto in how it breaks the so called reality of our universe. The Arcadia seems to know for sure that this ocarina is from young Mayu and alters course immediately on its own accord. Just what is this ship doing? Eventually we meet up with little Mayu on Earth where the appearance of her guardian, Harlock, brings a welcome smile to her face.

H_MotA_2Temporarily Mayu boards the Arcadia bringing a sense of comfort to the great space battleship. Just what is going on with this ship? It’s as if it is tied to Mayu in some way and has a mind of it’s own… a real… mystery. She returns to Earth which leads to the crew of the Arcadia picking up a transmission that looks similar to other Mazone signals that Harlock and crew have been chasing. The Mazone by the way is the alien antagonist regime in the TV series, in case you did not know.. Located in the Sargasso Sea, Bermuda Triangle territory in the Atlantic Ocean, the Arcadia heads out to investigate. During a run in with Commander Kiruta’s forces (main Earth antagonist) the Arcadia comes into contact with a ghost ship as well that fires on both Kiruta and the Arcadia. Now we have another mystery, a third wheel in the equation… ghost ships… WWII battleships in fact (typical of Matsumoto)… this calls for even more investigation in the area.

H_MotA_3Consider this movie as filler if you have already seen the 1978 TV series as this really tells nothing new, but as a die hard Harlock fan I consider it essential watching, though you may disagree. I love the animation style that Toei and director Rintaro created for this rendition of Harlock (both the 1978 TV series and this movie) so I am a little partial towards it. If you have never seen the original TV series this movie would be a good minor introduction, though it does slightly spoil a plot element later revealed in the series (if you can figure it out). Toei used to make many short films based on TV franchises during the 1970s and show these ‘specials’ in theaters, usually in a cornucopia styled grouping. This was of course well before OVAs (home video was in its infancy during this time) and even the internet, so this was an alternative to watching your favorite shows again, except on the BIG screen. Oh how times have changed, but the legacy of Captain Harlock, then or now, stands as eternal.