#97 : Armored Trooper Votoms

Votoms_1Armored Trooper Votoms in a certain frame of reference may be the greatest mecha anime of all time. And I say that again as a certain frame of reference since this may not be everyone’s idea of where mecha shows should tread. Several shows before and since have dived deep into realms of gritty military life and, or psychological science fiction, but nothing equals Votoms in terms of it’s presentation of both. This is a tale about a singular battle scared man coming to terms with his life and humanity in the dire of constant combat, but Votoms is also, perhaps, one of the most underrated love stories as well.

Votoms_2The year of 1983 brought many classic mecha shows to us and in particular the so-called real robot aspect of the genre. Sunrise would produce three gems: Yoshiyuki Tomino’s (Gundam dude) Aura Battler Dunbine, Takeyuki Kanda’s Galactic Drifter Vifam and Ryosuke’s Takahashi’s Armored Trooper Votoms. Mecha shows by this time had grown into a wealth of expression and many of the best had strong leanings towards space opera. Examples such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Yamato and Gundam all left influence on many shows in the early 1980s. These are prime examples of classic heroism and this is definitely not the world Armored Trooper Votoms. Votoms is more akin to the noir drama of Blade Runner, the esoteric sci-fi of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Vietnam War grit of Apocalypse Now. Votoms is a story of the hunted outcast searching for his purpose, not that of a perfect hero.

Sergeant Chirico Cuvie, a former member of the deadly Red Shoulder brigade, is a man on the run. Despite his stint in Gilgamesh’s Melkian army during the great war of the Astragius galaxy against the Balarant, Chirico finds life on the run just as difficult. During a mysterious last minute final assignment, Chirico becomes aware of a great secret. After interrogation and being left for dead, Chirico runs to find peace and safety. The only problem is everywhere he goes he can’t escape the proverbial battlefield. All Chirico wants to know is what the secret operation he was involved in was all about, who the secret organization behind the operation is, to have both Gilgamesh and Balarant off his back and… most importantly… who this mysterious beautiful woman that is so linked to his destiny is and why is it that he feels so attracted to her (Duh!… she is pretty and loyal to you).

Votoms_3The grit of militarism exudes not just in the story and politics, but also in the designs of the mechs themselves. The AT Scopedog is a timeless design for not being flashy, cool, or futuristic. The Scopedog is a basic run of the mill tank or army Jeep brought into the world of piloted robots. Clunky, functional and a nasty shade of green, the Scopedog is an antithesis to say a Gundam, or Valkyrie fighter (Macross). Ironically, the simple build quality of Scopedogs are fitting within the culture of model building since Chirico himself many times during the show either rebuilds, or modifies, several mechs. Yet there is one characteristic of a Scopedog that is distinctive… those roller skate type feet which allow them to roll on the ground. Of course this helped in production of the animation by keeping the drawing minimal at times, but still… it’s kind of fun!

Votoms_4The structure of the show is in four successive stages, or arcs and each one builds on the previous. The DVDs I have separate neatly into these so called movements: we begin in the streets of Uoodo (very Blade Runner), move into the jungles of Kummen (Apocalypse Now), and finish with the planets Sunsa and Quent (2001). Like an onion you slowly peel away the drama and suspense and end up in a world you never thought was possible when you first started. Uoodo was fun, Kummen was intense, Sunsa is my favorite for how dark and psychological it became and Quent turns everything on it’s head and then some.

Many times I write about anime from memory alone, or after I seeing something ‘new’ to me, I have to speak about it within a quick turnaround. Then there are times when the urge to dive back into the entirety of a show is most necessary. Votoms needed a re-watch and having seeing it with half fresh eyes, I can’t discount this masterpiece. After all… I am comparing this show to two live action movies that I highly respect and love, 2001 and Blade Runner. Perhaps I needed to grow into this show and now was the time to recognize Votoms brilliance.

… this could be Grey Digital Target’s soul brother and I love that movie too.

#70 : Dirty Pair: Project Eden

If there is one thing the Dirty Pair, I mean Lovely Angels (sorry girls), do well is that they know how to make a big explosion no matter where they go. I mean it is a part of their reputation after all. But in 1987, after a shortened TV show and a one off OVA, our girls Kei and Yuri would make a BIG comeback. First a couple OVA releases, the first to finish off the TV series and the second a ten episode new series. And then, ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between, our favorite duo would get a moment on the big screen. HOORAY!!! Welcome to the Dirty Pair Movie (Japan’s official name, really?) better known as Dirty Pair: Project Eden.

DP_PE_1Wine, women and song. This is an old saying and yet it perfectly fits the Dirty Pair’s… Ah I mean Lovely Angel’s only theatrical outing. All three of these elements have an important role in this movie. The wine, the minor McGuffin device of sorts between the two male characters (who I will mention later). Is this bottle of Chateau Laffitte 1945 ‘De Gaulle’ really worth all this trouble? Women, well that is our main duo Kei and Yuri, or duh that’s obvious. And song, this film has a great soundtrack. Find the moment where Yuri is dancing and you will see what I mean, because sometimes when the closing track Pas de Deux kicks in, I do similar moves.

DP_PE_2But how should Project Eden begin? What about a time and true standard to emulate?… James Bond of course. Lets have about five to ten minutes to introduce our scene, our characters which leads into a far out title sequence that drops in hints of danger and sex over the text. Now that’s a total homage to the legacy of 007. During the intro we are told about how mankind has invented warps drives and moved all over the expanses of outer space. And the fuel used for these warp drives is a metal called vizorium.

DP_PE_3Now vizorium is rare and sometimes brings in a criminal racket. This is how Kei and Yuri meet up with the thief Carson D. Carson, who is as handsome as he is sly. Unfortunately, Carson evades arrest, but don’t fret, we have not seen the last of him. Moving on, Kei and Yuri investigate a few of the rival vizorium mines that have been recently ransacked. Our Lovely Angels decide afterward to take a break with a nice warm bath and this is where they hilariously meet up with Carson again. The girls with Carson then take on these odd Alien vs. Predator monsters and learn from Carson about the real man behind this whole business of vizorium madness, Dr. Wattsman. Let the fun begin! And why does Wattsman have that previously mentioned bottle of Chateau Laffitte 1945 ‘De Gaulle’ and why does Carson desire is so much?

In terms of the vast amount of Dirty Pair material, Project Eden ranks as a very, very close second to my beloved Affair of Nolandia. I am in no way saying one is superior over the other, it’s just Nolandia’s darker tone just touches me that much more for repeat viewing. Both are solid productions from studio Sunrise and both feature two solid English dubs that provide an alternative to the classic Japanese casting. ADV’s attempt was more accurate in terms of translation, but Streamline’s is solid gold in terms of delivery. I have often praised that the Dirty Pair dubs from Streamline are possibly the best work they ever did and Project Eden’s dub with Lara Cody as Kei, Wendy Lee as Yuri, Kerrigan Mahan as Carson and Steve Kramer as Wattsman is perhaps Streamline’s pièce de résistance. In any case, you have options.

DP_PE_4So Project Eden… it’s the Dirty Pair at their biggest and perhaps, their finest hour. The excitement is great. The explosions are huge. The laughter cannot be contained. Plus, you get three attractive looking people in basically their underwear for a majority of the film. A killer combo. And while this is not the most artsy or serious films of the 1980s, it is without question one of the most fun. Much like Project A-Ko, or Space Adventure Cobra, Project Eden is one of the ultimate popcorn action comedies of the decade… and beyond.

#68 : Galactic Drifter Vifam

“Wipe away all your tears, together we will conquer fear, come and give us a hand, in search of a new land, I wonder where you are my friend, tell us what is left in the end…”

Vifam_11983 was a grand year for mecha. In particular, let us take a look at what was made at Sunrise. Yoshiyuki Tomino made Aura Battler Dunbine. Ryusuke Takahashi released his crown jewel, Armored Trooper Votoms. And that other guy known as Takeyuki Kanda took an original idea from Tomino based loosely on Jules Verne’s Two Years’ Vacation (a story that influenced Adrift in the Pacific and Infinite Ryvius) and made one of my ALL-TIME favorite shows. The brilliant, fun, and at times adorable Galactic Drifter Vifam or Round Vernian Vifam.

Vifam_2For me Vifam is one of those shows I would recommend in a heart beat, even to those of you who are not into robots at all. Much like My Neighbor Totoro, Vifam touches the joy and innocence of being a kid and growing up, just in a more sci-fi adventure kind of way. This cast of kids is one of the best ensembles ever conceived (my opinion) and they range from the early teens down to almost being out of diapers. That and having Toyoo Ashida as your main character designer only adds to their appeal. The story begins with these 13 kids on board a starship with a group of adults as guardians. Soon the tides will shift when our cast of youngsters have to go it alone. Now if you think this will be like Lord of the Flies, fret not, these kids are responsible and end up working together sharing every emotion from joys to sorrows on a voyage of a lifetime.

Vifam_3Escaping from an alien force and adrift in space trying to return home to find their parents, our cast of young survivors would happen upon and learn how to pilot a few robots known as Round Vernians. One of them, the Vifam, will become the main hero and under the piloting hands of our main hero, Roddy Shuffle, a force to be dealt with. Now if this sounds far fetched… hey, it’s anime. The other element of this show that has to be highlighted is the concept of xenophobia. Katue Pearson, a young girl with the Earth children, looks a little different and it comes to show later that she is one of the alien Astrogaters (odd name?). How will this affect the relationships of our young cast to know one of their own, in a way is not, but at heart is still very much a part of the group?

Does this kind of remind you a little of the original Gundam? Yes? However, Vifam has it’s own elements to be original in it’s own way. Vifam was created at a time when mecha anime was still king of the shonen market and still had great stories to tell. As I said earlier, 1983 was a great year for mecha in the overall, but I have to give all the credit to Sunrise. Before Gundam took over as the flagship brand of Sunrise anime, you had shows like Vifam and many others.

Vifam_4And that robot, that Round Vernian known as Vifam, with that number seven being proudly displayed, is my second all time favorite. The SPT Layzner from it’s own eponymously named show still takes the top spot for me. But the Vifam is a very functional looking piece of machinery, yet has an aesthetic flavor that is inviting. What do you think? And… and as for that epic theme song, that for some reason reminds me of something Pete Townshend of the Who would write, it’s in English! TAO’s Hello Vifam may be the first theme song to be completely recorded in English and if you have sources to back this up I would appreciate it. This would have been ready made to bring over to the West back in the day, all you needed was a dub and like magic… an instant hit for all us kids. Just don’t forget all the toys and merchandise!

Vifam is such a joy and I look forward to when I can get another round of watching this show again. Never underestimate the power that children can accomplish… if only adults could put kids in charge. And if you are still young, or young at heart, don’t surrender anything!

… and for fans of Eureka Seven. Compare Roddy Shuffle and Katue Pearson to the designs of Renton Thurston and Eureka. See any similarities?

 

#62 : Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ

The red headed step twice removed cousin that you swear has to be adopted.  Much is said about the reputation of Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ as the oddball of the original Universal Century timeline of Gundam. Now I can poo-poo all over this show too, but why? It is better to see the hidden glories inside this odd release. Let us instead look at the areas where ZZ Gundam does well as well as my areas of questioning, at least from my perspective.

ZZ_1First, it is well animated. Kind of generic, but Sunrise usually gives royal treatment to many classic series and that should not be overlooked. Also the change from Yoshikazu Yasuhiko to Hiroyuki Kiazume for lead character designer is not a bad change. Kitazume has great skills as an artist, so he is most welcome as a change. What would Judau have looked like other wise? Maybe a different eye shape perhaps? And by the way, is it me or are there like way more girls than dudes in this show? Nothing wrong with that and all of them are on the cuter side. Therefore the nickname for ZZ shall be forever known as Cute Girl Gundam (thats better than my nickname for Zeta, Bitchslap Gundam… just ask Kamille).

ZZ_2Second, patience and the 20 episode mark. When I first saw this series I watched about the first 20 episodes and was a little disappointed to say the least. In response, I did a very sensible thing… I took a break from it for about a month. Upon returning, to my surprise, the series began to change (for a short period of time) back into the older dramatic flavor of Zeta and MSG. This gave me faith to continue to the finish. And even though the show is far from perfect, I did finish it. Like anything in life, get away for five minutes to clear your perspective.

ZZ_3Third, we get resolution for Zeta’s tragic hero, Kamille Bidan. And after Zeta, I was worried beyond belief for Kamille, as he is my favorite pilot and the show just stops in a dramatic cliffhanger. Thankfully we see him get out of his shock and mental issues from the final battle of Zeta, though the price he paid for what he did may never be fully healed. The price of karma and severe PTSD on a newtype is a bitch! And… thank you Fa for standing by him.

Something else to consider… not every mecha series is, or even has to be, an epic space opera melodrama. While this may be true and can work for other shows, Xabungle and GoShogun come to mind, it is a serious jolt for my view on the classic Gundam Universe. Some may blame director Yoshiyuki Tomino since he has an interesting portfolio, but I know no anime is the sole responsibility of just one individual. Miyazaki may be the lone exception to that rule (he has his genius hands in everything) 🙂

ZZ_4Now for the main problem I have with ZZ. It is not the story, or the characters, or even the bizarre comedy. It is a more fundamental issue I have with many things in our culture. It’s that it is a product of a branding machine. The sole reason for ZZ’s existence is to continue a franchise to make more money. It’s a victim of marketing and higher ups trying to bend an already established universe and twist it around to make it appeal to someone else who would care less about Gundam. Gundam, like other properties, still continues today with constant revisiting leaving little room for originality. Perhaps mecha and Gundam perhaps are just dead concepts? Love live you beautiful giant robots.

…and also sometimes when a story is finished, it should be treated as such. Sequels after sequels are not always necessary.

So in the end we have a Gundam series that starts off with an introductory episode, the second episode features a food fight, we meet one of the missing Misfits from Jem and the Holograms and we get an episode where the boys have to dress up like girls to rescue their comrades. Not my typical definition of Gundam, but who knows, it may be more to your liking than you realize. ZZ Gundam may be far from perfect (what is perfect amyways?), but it is at least worth a view for the sake of posterity.

#45 : Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

Whether in the afterworld or someplace else, the soul that used to inhabit this cold shell is probably not at peace. And further out there is a green planet… ” … I love that intro and yes I love this show. While I often think you can never go beyond an original, this is a big exception. This is not a sequel, nor a followup to Mobile Suit GundamMobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a melancholic ride of intensity that can never be topped.

ZG_1For me Zeta Gundam is the pinnacle of Gundam. I have not seen every Gundam series and to be honest I don’t know how I can. This show left a mark on me that I cannot shake even now. At it’s best it might be the most brutal and passionate tale of epic space opera mecha. The aftermath of ZZ Gundam and then Char’s Counterattack left me disappointed as I felt the story had no where else to go, or just didn’t go anywhere. Zeta Gundam, for me, was the top of what mecha once was and became. Even watching mecha related shows from later decades that take on the direct seriousness and drama, for me, are more cookie cutter or fall flat with being a bit too much for what it is (Evangelion is an exception, but that is it’s own brillance).

ZG_2When I first watched Zeta I had no idea what was going on and this was due to the fact that I had zero exposure to the Universal Century timeline. I watched almost a third of the show and proclaimed I had to go back a little further to make some sense of all this. Once I got around to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and digested all there was I was in much better shape. I would come back to Zeta and digested the first half this time with glee and joy. I would eventually purchase the second half and, no lie, watched the final 25 episodes in what was possibly one of the greatest endurance runs of my life. In the span of a day and a half I would finish that second half and my life was never the same.

ZG_3Zeta takes place about eight years after the original series and for me the real draw is our new protagonist. I love Kamille Bidan. Some say he is troubled, maybe autistic. It may be that, but his confusion and angst mixed with raw ability hit very close to almost looking in the mirror. I get this guy, totally get this guy. Also with the reintroductions of Char Aznable… I mean Quattro Bajenna (love those shades dude), Amuro Ray (who I still find it hard to believe had a back seat role in this chapter), Bright Noa (welcome back captain) and most of the other members of the White Base crew makes everything proper and tidy. And with a plethora of many more new characters in this series as well, it is sad to say that a minority live to the end. Many tears have I shed over and over again over the loss of so many folks including the troubled Four Murasume and the brilliant Emma Sheen.

ZG_4Now I want to discuss the ending. How do you describe it… kind of like a car accident? All that heavy action and movement, which breaks to a moment of reflection and confusion which seems to stand still. Where am I, why do I feel in shock that I can’t even talk, what just happened? How sad to watch our protagonist, Kamille, once filled with such passion and drive become nothing more than a confused shell. And that is our finale. Cut… done. That’s it? Yup and somehow even though many call it a downer and open ended ending, I find it beyond satisfying. This is not some wrapped up in a bow Hollywood every one wins and smiles at the end kind of ending. This is a close the book, take a breathe and sighing out type of ending. You have to take some time to process what has just occurred and not just only the ending, but the whole show as an entirety. And because of the need of this processing, it stays with you. LIKE GLUE!

Zeta Gundam… a product of it’s time, a pinnacle of a generation and a classic for all time. One of my all time favorites now and forever.

#30 : Mobile Suit Gundam

1979 was a breakthrough year. And Mobile Suit Gundam was a breakthrough series, or was it? I see Gundam as a continuation, an evolution and a product of it’s time expressing the then fashionable mecha genre with space opera not unlike Space Battleship Yamato or Star Wars. But where Yamato was emotional and Star Wars was heroic, Gundam was intense passion. And that passion became a franchise bigger than it’s own name, an elephant in the room that now seems to define mecha itself. But nothing compares to an original and for me when you go back  ‘the’ original, it is hard to move ahead to what seems like a copycat for cash.

msg_1The original Gundam may have broke the mold in regards to looking at the large robot as a piece of utilitarian hardware instead of this super hero deus ex machina. But, Gundam did not happen in a bubble or was a happy accident. The mecha genre had been building through the 1970s and the likes of Yoshiyuki Tomino (Gundam’s creator/director) and Tadao Nagahama both pushed story and character development through the later part of the decade. Two shows from 1977 deserve the place as major stepping stones leading to Gundam, Nagahama’s Voltes V and Tomino’s Zambot 3. If you love mecha and consider Gundam to be the true beginning of mecha as serious storytelling, you may have to scratch that surface again.

msg_2Why do I love the original Gundam so? Simple answer… it’s good. Damn good… no great. An epitome of the concept of the large epic space opera. Top it off for it being harder sci-fi as well. Warp drives and far out deep space are out. We are going to stay close to the Earth sphere for this story. Let’s strip out a bit of the super fantastic and make it about political ideals. A corrupt unified government, the Earth Federation, versus an even more corrupt family dictatorship, the Zeon (Jeon?) Empire that can likened to the Godfather or I Claudius. And everyone else is in between and by due fact of geography resides to one of those sides, which is where a majority of our main cast resides. Many aboard a Federation ship called White Base, which houses the Federation’s newest prototype, the RX78-02 Gundam.

msg_3And this tale has one of the greatest rivalry combinations pitting an electronics obsessed otaku kid who wants nothing to do with fighting or war against a blonde elitist pilot who must be in disguise in order to carry out his own personal revenge for the wrong done to his family. Amuro vs. Char, a combo remade too many times in each successive Gundam series that may look good on paper, but never approaches the original. In between both men are two women, Char’s distant sister Sayla Mass, who is close to Amuro, and the woman of mystery who flirts with the hearts of Amuro and Char, Lalah Sune. It is more than a rivalry of who is a better pilot, or for which side of the conflict they fight for. It is personal and full of blind angst that can’t be expressed except between two lost souls needing conflict to justify their existences. As Marshall McLuhan says “Violence as a Quest for Identity.” This is a bonafide soap opera.

msg_4And this is just another robot show? Well at least it was in 1979. Ratings were not too hot, but a certain group of fans caught on, very similar to original Yamato. And both would get a second chance in the theaters. My chance to experience original Gundam came after encounters with first Gundam Wing, which left me a little empty, and the first half of Zeta Gundam, which left me a little confused. I tried original Gundam next and I could not go back. Zeta Gundam made much more sense and I became a die hard fan of the Universal Century timeline with two conditions: first it has to be helmed by Yoshiyuki Tomino and two, it has to feature Amuro and Char. Gundam is not Gundam without these combinations for me similar to the way I see Macross as being the story of Hikaru, Misa and Minmei.

msg_5Of all the hype for Star Wars or the newest Gundam release, the original Mobile Suit Gundam will always stick out to me. Well Zeta Gundam is a love of mine as well, but there would be no Zeta Gundam without the original. Also no Macross as well, so it is to be said if Gundam never came out who would have known where or if my fandom would have occured. If you ask me where do you start with Gundam, I have only one answer. Start at the very beginning with the original Mobile Suit Gundam.

#23 : The Ideon: A Contact/Be Invoked

How often do we get to have a second chance? Have you ever had an idea, a story or a project that was meant for a bigger promise and an even bigger finale? Often times some stories, be it anime or otherwise, get a premature conclusion. This would be the second production in a row where Yoshiyuki Tomino would go back and retell his story again after early cancellation. The first was that little show he did a season previously called Mobile Suit Gundam, though that was more a refinement of the overall story. For Space Runaway Ideon, the ending was completely cut and rushed leaving a universe of questioning what just happened? Two years later the missing pieces and a proper ending would emerge in the theaters as The Ideon: A Contact and The Ideon: Be Invoked.

idem_1For my money Ideon is the ultimate super robot tale, maybe even the most amazing space opera I have experienced as well. Tackling issues of xenophobia and higher cosmic metaphysics around a large cast of characters that go through beyond the sublime. The Ideon robot, for me, is the most terrifying machine… EVER! The Ideon is not so much a robot and the Ide energy is more than spiritual mumbo jumbo. These are acts of nature, an act of whatever name you want to call the deity, or the ultimate power of the universe. Perhaps the embodiment of the universe itself as neither good nor bad, it just is. Perhaps the energies to keep the cycles of life and evolution flowing, continuing and growing. All of this from the origins of a simple toy sponsored show with funky disco derived fashions. Truly a concept beyond it’s physical package.

idem_2First let’s look at A Contact. There is nothing new here if you are already familiar with the TV series. Retelling the first two thirds of the series in a condensed structure makes the movie move quite fast, but I would still recommend viewing it as there is nothing wrong with reviewing the events leading up to Be Invoked. Though for those of you who have yet to see the Ideon TV series I would highly recommend diving into the 39 episodes that were produced as you get a little more background. There is nothing wrong with cutting out the fat so they say, but when you cut into the meat as well it can leave you a little hungry.

idem_3Now for Be Invoked. I really, really, really and truly love this movie and what it did for me. After watching the TV series, then A Contact I would move to Be Invoked and felt a sense of satisfaction that this journey was worth the work. The masterpiece was at the end, much like the final movement of a great symphony. The same thing happened to me with Patlabor. The original OVA, to the first movie and then Patlabor 2: The Movie as a finale was like being bathed in something words can never describe. I have seen the promised land and but it truly moved me. It’s moments like this that make me most happy. Many have said that the Ideon movies are much like the Evangelion movie duo, Death and Rebirth and End of… , but I disagree. True, Gainax was yet again paying tribute by following a formula, but the Eva movies presented an alternate ending kind of like ‘top this if you didn’t like how the TV series ended’ because we gave you the end and you thought it was not enough. But where both franchises are similar in their movie adaptation is the fact that they end BIG!

idem_4But what about Be Invoked makes it so worthwhile personally. Ideon for me is one of if not the darkest sci-fi space opera I have witnessed. Yoshiyuki Tomino would let it all out with the plot revolving around two civilizations who can only fight each other. When characters die, they die and tragically, not unlike Zeta Gundam and Aura Battler Dunbine. And in Ideon everyone pays the final price, kind of like and old saying I heard as how serious is life, you won’t get out of it alive. If this spoils things I am sorry, but Ideon is known as the show where everyone and everything dies. But, from the movie I have gained a new perspective on the concept of death. The floating spirits being reborn to a higher consciousness is a welcome concept. It is not over when the physical organism is done, you continue on although not in the same state of mind or body. That and the wisdom of Alan Watts stating that death is like going to sleep without waking up, or being born is awakening without a memory of falling asleep. So instead of death it is rebirth and as I have often said in the end, we will all die and live happily ever after.

It’s big, it’s bold, it’s one of Sunrise’s best robot franchises ever. Would I ever want to see a remake? Well much like Citizen Kane, how do you top perfection done right the first time? Particularly with that great orchestral score (I love those soundtracks). Oh Ideon, how you rocked my world.