#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.

#126 : Magical Angel Creamy Mami

cm_1To be forever young… is it truly possible? My two cents says that without question and I will stake everything on it, that all magical girls do remain forever young. The pride and joy as well as perhaps the biggest backbone for all that is shojo in anime, the magical girl, is a genre and an archetype without peer. The 1980s witnessed a rebirth and reinvention of the magical girl and one in particular would be a leading example for one particular studio as well as a generation. In 1983, Studio Pierrot would marry magical girls into the world of the pop idol with Magical Angel Creamy Mami… thus a legend was born.

cm_2Two things hit me when I watched this show. First it’s adorable; can’t deny that. Though when you mention to people you are watching a classic title like Magical Angel Creamy Mami, especially those who are not in the know about anime in general, they may think it is some sort of porn title. IT’S NOT!!! Cream Lemon yes, Creamy Mami NO! This is a sweet wholesome show, something you can watch with the whole family… just an awkward title. And second, did Jem and the Holograms derive any influence from this show? Magic transformations and pop music idols are rampant in both shows. Maybe its a coincidence? Although to be frank both shows are completely different in approach, but I could not help but find a parallel between two shows made around the same time. Anyway on with the main program…

cm_3Miss Yuu Morisawa… our protagonist… a plain jane, average in many ways and very independent, but in a sweet way. She does not technically stand out, even to the boy that she is infatuated with (shame on you Toshio), yet behind the normality there lurks much potential. I appreciate that she is an opposite to the popular Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon). Yuu is not quote, a dumb blonde, a ditz… annoying. Perhaps this is more than likely why I have issue with watching Sailor Moon. Yuu is the type of character I can identify with, I can root for and also hold a series together. Often times a show is as good as it’s cast, story and plot can be interchangeable, with the main character acting as a bedrock, perhaps the identity of a show itself. It was you Yuu Morisawa that made me love Creamy Mami.

Blessed with magical powers from outer space (Feather Star… nice name for a planet), Yuu is given her traditional magic wand within a fancy compact and two cute mini alien cats as guardians, which aid her as she turns from a ten year old into a glamorous sixteen year old with a singing voice and purple hair. PURPLE HAIR… love it! Yet, this power is only granted for one year. Our story thus creates a dichotomy. Average school and pop princess must find a balance in both scheduling, and knowing one’s true identity. Yuu is level headed enough to know that Mami is still Yuu and not get lost into the world of celebrity as it at times can get ridiculous. Not a bad twist of fortune for the daughter of a family that runs a local crepe shop.

cm_4Underneath all the magical girl fun, the great color pallet used, the slapstick comedy and the danceable music, we have a romance. Perhaps even a love triangle, that is between two people, yet three identities. Again I have to reference Jem for that one. Yuu and Toshio are made for each other yet there are sparks that fly, but when the moments are right, there is true love. Be on watch near the middle of the episode running for a great plot twisting that will not again play out until the near end. The entire show turns upside down as the secret of Mami is revealed to a special someone.

Magical Angel Creamy Mami opened the flood gate for Studio Pierrot’s other mahou shojo shows that featured Persia (Magical Fairy Persia), Emi (Magical Star Magical Emi)  and Yumi (Magical Idol Pastel Yumi) later in the decade. But there is only one original and that is you Mami. Shine bright forever! Between you, Minmei (Macross) and Eve (Megazone 23), I have my power trio of pop idols that help keep me young… FOREVER!

#118 : Cosmo Police Justy

Justy_1Say hey there Space Cowboy, catch any outlaws today? … Who says the wild west ended during the time of covered wagons, cowboys and revolver pistols. I say let’s give this genre a sci-fi coat of paint. Why? … just because! And what do we get? A futuristic yet retro tale of Heroes and Villains. “Heroes and villains, Just see what you’ve done, Ba Ba Ba…” … ah yes, Beach Boys lyrics! (great band) … Back on track now, our entry this time round was one of the original direct to video releases, a pioneer (nice wild west pun!). A product of my beloved home base year of 1985 made by that talented group known simply as Studio Pierrot. A gem of an OVA, Cosmo Police Justy.

Justy_2Cosmo Police Justy was a release I became infatuated with just from viewing only still shots. Almost like love at first sight where one could not wait to have the date. When I was in the beginning of finding more obscure classic titles I set about certain parameters as a starting point and Cosmo Police Justy fit in quite nicely. The game was to find titles primarily from the middle part of the 1980s, usually sci-fi or space opera in flavor and then I left it all to my gut reaction determine if it would be a match. For Justy the character’s had a similar quality to Macross, though not as sophisticated as Mikimoto’s, and this was a big plus on my end (plus Justy has great hair, me oh so jealous). Also here in the U.S. a portion of the manga came out via Viz in their once comic sized format which aided the fansub release of the anime.

Justy_3The story consists of a basic good guy vs. bad guy premise, but also has a lot going on under the surface that shapes the overall plot. Revenge is the name of the game as the gang of the fallen criminal Magnum Vega plans to get their just desserts onto the well renowned Cosmo Police agent, Justy Kaizard. Justy’s reputation and super human esper skills brought down the venerable Magnum Vega, but doing so left much controversy and damage. Vega’s gang felt it in one way, but Vega’s daughter Astalis (Astaris) would take the situation in an entirely different way simply because the big bad Magnum Vega was not a criminal in her eyes, but simply dad. Enraged she would vow revenge on Justy when she would get to be big and strong. And then… she would from the power of anger, grow and mature in a matter of seconds… behold the power of science fiction.

As much as she would try, Astalis just could not take down Justy and in the process knocks herself out. Feeling troubled by what happened, Justy and his ‘sister’ Jerna (Jelna) would adopt Astalis and take care of her like family. Thankfully the shock of the fight between Justy and Astalis would give Astalis amnesia about the entire incident. Astalis, though looking like a teenager, has the innocence and mind of a young child and the only thing she knows is that she has two loving adopted siblings, Justy and Jerna. Will this peace and harmony between these three characters last forever? Or, is there something else bubbling under the surface that will shake this stable union?

Justy_4As mentioned earlier Cosmo Police Justy was a project from Studio Pierrot and because of this belongs to a select family. Pierrot would release the first OVA in late 1983, Dallos which would continue into 1984. By 1985 Pierrot would grow their direct to video releases to include several Creamy Mami titles, the great Area 88,  and the sentimental Fire Tripper, Plus lets add all the Urusei Yatsura madness that was ever so popular on both the small and cinematic screens. Cosmo Police Justy was a fellow sibling among these titles… now that’s a proper family!… I hate to play on the Pokemon catch phrase, but you should catch them all! Or as many as you can attempt.

The time to justify this piece of Japanese animation is now. Cosmo Police Justy justifiably is a legend, though more on the side of being a dark horse. Give this anime some of justice it deserves. No further adjustment is needed. … Does anyone else have more suggestions of using the word ‘just’ to help end this entry?

#37 : The Mysterious Cities of Gold

mcog_1I had no idea my childhood was incomplete. Years ago I kept running into this show that a lot of people said was one of the best 80s cartoons. How can that be, I have seen the really big ones… or so I thought. And to my gleeful astonishment, it counts as an anime as well. A co-production of DiC (many favorite memories from this company) and Studio Pierrot, this 1982 show aired in France and Japan, on the NHK no less. Later it would be dubbed in English and shown in England and North America, but alas I did not have Nickelodeon (no cable TV at my house). I may have missed my chance back then, but thanks to the internet and DVD I would get to travel back to the 16th century to discover the awesomeness of The Mysterious Cities of Gold.

mcog_2Que that classic soundtrack by Shuki Levy (the Mozart of 80s cartoon themes) because we are about to embark on a great adventure. Young Esteban, an orphan boy in the care of a Spanish priesthood, who has this mysterious power to bring about the sun, stows away on a ship bound for the ‘new world’ of South America. Envious of the sailor’s travels, Esteban learns his family lineage is from this area of the world. Aided by Mendoza, a man who saved Esteban from drowning years ago while in the Atlantic Ocean, Esteban begins his quest for adventure. While on board he would meet an Incan girl named Zia, who is held prisoner as she is said to know how to find the illustrious cities of gold. Eventually the ship is wrecked and Esteban, Mendoza, Zia with Mendoza’s lackies Sancho and Pedro wash up on shore to eventually meet a native boy of the Hiva (or Mu) people, Tao. Together they search the vast expanse of South and Central America searching for these ‘mysterious’ cities of gold, evading the Spanish, meet natives, try to locate the missing family members of Esteban and Zia and find two great treasures: an awesome sailing ship and a golden condor. I want to sign up for this trip!

mcog_3How did I miss out on this? I loved many of DiC’s productions (and for many I still do). A majority of them were tied to toy lines, but not this one. Based loosely on Scott O’Dells’ The King’s Fifth, the only thing this show had to sell was the story. Getting back to DiC, I see many similarities between The Mysterious Cities of Gold and other shows. Esteban looks like a miniature Jayce from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors (one of my all time favorites). His hair is similar (missing the white streak), he wears a medallion and his costume is very close. And Mendoza looks very similar to Herc from Jayce as well. Also the group dynamic is similar to again Jayce and another early collaboration with Japan, Ulysses 31, but each show has their own chemistry. So we have a new take on a familiar formula. I like it.

mcog_4My only gripe is that as the show progresses, it goes from a period piece to a more sci-fi affair, particularly with the appearance of the Olmecs. Since when are the Olmecs bad guys, I mean we don’t know much about this ancient group. Why turn them in alien like trolls? Besides this minor issue (and trust me it is only minor), it is a solid paced serial adventure that grows each episode as you continue on. Will our cast find all the cities of gold? Can Mendoza be trusted? Is the abundance of gold the real treasure? And how come this ‘new world’ is more ancient than the ‘old world’ of Europe and such? Atlantis perhaps? That remains to be seen. Also don’t forget to catch the the mini documentaries that aired at the end of each episode. WAIT, we have an educational element as well? How many more boxes can this show check off on the list of being ‘most awesome’?

Shows come and go, but legends never die. And shows that depict historical setting are more interesting than the real thing… occasionally. For The Mysterious Cities of Gold this rule can apply…“Goodbye, till next time”

#24 : Area 88

area88_1Circumstances often bring us into situations that may not always be the most ideal. Shin Kazama is a young pilot who just graduated from a flight academy in Paris. His future looks certain; he is optimistic, has a job lined up with Yamato airlines and his beautiful girlfriend is the daughter of the president of the company. All his dreams are about to come true except for the fact that he decided to join his best friend on a drunken night on the town which ended up with the naive and very impaired Shin signing a paper without really reading over it. The following morning he comes to find out he has a new destiny and that destiny is in the foreign legion air force of Arslan. Shin Kazama’s future now belongs to Area 88.

Area 88, released in 1985, is an example of an early masterpiece for the then new direct to video format, the OVA. Produced by Studio Pierrot, the same company that released the first OVA release in late 1983 (Dallos), Area 88 showed a growing maturity in a short span of time. Based off of the original manga, this pocket sized three episode (two if you have an alternate release) was one of the first productions I experienced in the beginning of my journey into the deep dive of being a hard core older otaku who was looking for options to play catch up as it were. Megazone 23 Part 1 and Area 88 (episode 1 at the time) were my homework almost a decade ago and needless to say I was happy to find alternate material to compliment the usual material I had up to that point.

area88_2Let’s look at nature vs. nurture in regards to our hero Shin Kazama. True there is the debate of are things predestined or learned all across the map, but in regards to Shin I have to point to the nurture aspect, or more precisely environmental influence. Shin’s initial nature is a gentile soul whose life has become flipped upside down. He is depressed, he is desparate. More than anything he wants to return to Japan to go back to his former life. But over time from being in the battlefield and around battle scared pilots he begins to morph into a cold blooded mercenary as it is the only way for him to survive. The only life he can conceive is being trapped in a fighter plane trying to earn enough credits to qualify for an honorable discharge. Of course he can serve three years or desert (which he tried earlier in his career) as well.

area88_3Shin is a victim of circumstance, NO! He accepted his current condition instead of holding on to his genuine truth, but war does strange things to everyone involved. The love of his life Ryoko is now being approached by the friend who sold him out, Kanzaki. As Kanzaki weasels his way up the corporate ladder and enforce his love to Ryoko he can never escape the ghost of his old friend Shin. Often times their paths cross even though they may not be looking at each other in the face. Talk about a soap opera and a half and I am eating it all up with a bucket of popcorn (I need a refill!). Much of this story can be seen in many of the mecha series of the time, as I see this as shonen-esque type show, but Area 88 is a bit more down to earth dealing with actual war machinery and a more contemporary setting (be it the late 70s/early 80s). It’s kind of like, what I read somewhere, a more realistic G.I. Joe. Very true in that observation, but I still seeArea 88 as a tale of a man who lost his faith in himself.

area88_4Another avenue I often look at with the lens of Area 88 is the concept of the war draft. Growing up a decade after the ending of the Vietnam war, the shadow of being told to go to war without question or reason was around. This was my parents’ generation and of course it was reflected in films such as Apocalyse Now and Platoon. Much like those films, Area 88 shows a young man’s life change due to the circumstance of being taken away from his environment and his dreams. The spoils of war often silence many young people who had drive and ambition. If you feel it is your duty to serve you are more than able, but we should never force anyone to do what they may not feel is truly right.

Truly a gold standard of the OVA, Area 88 tells it’s story with the right pacing and production value. Without any question it is required viewing for anyone interested in classic Japanese animation. Just one word of parting advice… never sign anything when you have been drinking alcohol. You never know what misfortunes can arise from being careless.