#220 : Harmagedon

“That’s great it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, and aeroplanes… Lenny Bruce is not afraid”… ? … hold on a minute, is this like the end of the world as we know it, the end times, the apocalypse? Kind of and do I feel fine?… I don’t think so if that’s the case and yet from all endings throughout time they are also become new beginnings. Combine the ultimate disaster scenario with an invading evil presence from the far side of the universe and what do you get?, BIG trouble. In the year of 1983 I could sum this up with the title of a movie that was a box office hit in Japan. Let me guess is it Total Armageddon? Nope, more like Harmagedon.

Harma_1aHeroes unite! The evil Genma has made his way through the universe, bringing terror and destruction to every world he touches. Not bad for a large cloud like red skull? He is now set on Earth to claim as his own except he runs into a little problem. He has to face a squad of people who hail from all around the world, from different backgrounds, nationalities and races who happen to have psionic powers… almost sounds like a variation of Cyborg 009 in a way. And it should as the original source material, and title of the film, was known as Genma Taisen (The Great Battle, or War of Genma) a cooperative effort between Kazumasa Hirai and Shotaro Ishinomori (009’s creator). Genma Taisen even had it’s origins in the 1960s too! The first half of Harmagedon, and it’s a long half, showcases only a trio of our heroic cast: a psychic princess from Transylvania (really!), a resurrected robot warrior and our main protagonist, a young Japanese man named, Jo, who is having a very bad day. First he finds out he is not on the baseball team, then he gets dumped by his girlfriend and finally he ends up being chased by some strange robot in an alley that keeps shooting at him. Talk about a rough day!

Harma_2Another take on ‘Heroes unite!’ as we now look at another group of people, those who were responsible for the making of this mammoth of a film. First is Haruki Kadakawa who is not a name I often equate with anime often, except when I see his name plastered at the beginning of any opening credit sequence with that beautiful phoenix like logo. He was the executive producer and a high roller at that who made it loud and clear that he was the one funding this project! Let us next move to the powerhouse studio known as Madhouse and one of it’s best directors, the amazing Rintaro. Love him or hate him, his work is monumentally visual which sometimes looses a little depth in terms of story, or character. Next in line is our character designer who was a young manga artist that would get his first shot in the anime world. He would become ultra famous for a movie from 1988 known as Akira, but in 1983 he was just plain and simple Katsuhiro Otomo. And finally we need some music, so who could fill this roll? We need someone big, bombastic and different! How about Keith Emerson? Whoa really like from Emerson, Lake, Palmer? The guy who brought a massive Moog synthesizer on tour and had a reputation for stabbing knives into Hammond organs, amongst other things. Yeah we’ll take him! “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends…”

Harma_3Many often poo poo Harmagedon as a film, particularly here in the west. In Japan it was a huge blockbuster at the theaters and popular. Did you see the reference in Project A-Ko for instance? We of course did not have much exposure to the original Genma Taisen sources that had been around for decades in Japan. That and the over emphasis of action and the visuals make Harmagedon a feast for the eyes, but awkward in terms of plot. You really have to know and have a passion for Genma Taisen to really love it, or just see Harmagedon as an example of an arthouse action film. And anyway, aren’t many blockbuster action films just visual spectacle. Yes, but not on the level of artistic beauty that Harmagedon exudes. Plus the emphasis of more realistic designs for both Tokyo and Otomo’s characters, as well as Rintaro’s touch, gives Harmagedon an edgy look that was not seen often in anime at that time. Don’t quote me on that, I heard this from many sources and they are so right!

Harma_4Several themes are brought to the surface, but one that draws a good amount of attention is some very open racism, which eventually resolves itself from understanding and compassion. Compassion is a great word to use I would say as an overall theme of this movie as we as humans need to respect the diversity of who we are and take care of this beautiful green world we live on which is not separate from us, but is a part of us. Our protagonist Jo also has his own feelings to resolve, all stemming from anger towards himself, the death of loved ones and even getting dumped and feeling not up to playing for the high school baseball team. Transforming anger into compassion, hate into love and believing in yourself is for me the major theme of Harmagedon. I understand this very well as this is a core issue I have been dealing with personally. And as of this writing in 2020, who can not say there is a lot of anger and frustration in our collective world? Jo would rise above his hate and is it me, or does this film also remind you in a way to Otomo’s Akira? In that movie we see the destructive power of personal hatred affecting each and every one of us. Both films end in total destruction and yet in both films there is a glimmer of hope that we can start again because being with people you love and that in turn believe in you, no matter the circumstances, can show a way toward one’s next season in life.

… I apologize as this one went a little longer than normal, but then again this movie’s running time feels like it runs longer than normal… maybe it was destined to be this way?

#214 : Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy

A great power, an energy source has been discovered that can be the panacea to Earth’s energy. And yet there is always a catch in finding or discovering any powerful MacGuffin device… the karmic baggage. Our protagonists are not the only ones who have an interest in this great source of power and it is up to them to save the Earth yet again. Except this isn’t your run of the mill gang of heroes. Our cast if a famous name in terms of anime, if not legendary. The brain child of Shotaro Ishinomori… one of the founding franchises of modern anime and manga. The beloved nine of Cyborg 009 are ready to go on yet another adventure; this time we look at the 1980 film Legend of the Super Galaxy, or Defenders of the Vortex.

C009_80_1Released during the airing of the reimagined 1979 TV series, Legend of the Super Galaxy would tell an alternate story that takes place several years later where all nine cyborgs are brought back together for a new special mission. This time the foe is not Black Ghost, nor of this Earth. This is a unique tale, a tale of heroes and villains, a tale of sacrifice, love and even the usual action all set mostly this time in outer space. Saving the the Earth from an evil organization is one thing, but encountering extraterrestrial forces outside our native homeward is another. The superhero genre is one thing, but as a space opera, it is something else.

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Cyborg 009 in the guise of a space opera? How can this be possible? The height of the genre was in full swing during the release of this film and in many ways, yeah why not give it a try? It’s like from my eye an injecting of a lot Leiji Matsumoto styled influence. Particularly Space Battleship Yamato as this was a hot sci-fi property at the time. And yet it works very well for our cyborg soldier team in terms of making them seem like a true family with the heightened melodrama… I’m such a sucker for these types of movies, how about you? The romance between 003 (Francoise) and 009 (Joe), the rescue of Princess Tamara as well as the self sacrificial act of 004 (Albert) in Legend of the Super Galaxy give this film just a little more added punch to the usual story dynamics of Cyborg 009. Even though this movie was available on VHS back in the day here in the west, dubbed of course, it was one that was never on my radar. Yet as a film seen years after the fact, this brought back the tingles of nostalgia that drew me into anime in the first place.

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Our collective nine cyborgs have always had a special place in my heart as well as other fans. More so because they don’t remind me of a team, but more so a family. Everyone has a back story and despite being from different backgrounds and ethnicities, everyone views themselves as fellow brothers and sister. This family bond is very present in Legend of the Super Galaxy. All nine work together as a team and fight together not because it is our job, but because they genuinely care for each other and also for the fate of the planet Earth. There is plenty of heart between their relationships and Legend of the Super Galaxy may perhaps be the most impactful adventure these nine go through in terms of showing that being cybernetically enhanced can never hide the true feelings of the highest form of human feeling… compassion.

C009_80_4With so much Cyborg 009 available, and with material constantly getting modern face lifts, does Legend of the Super Galaxy still hold up in more contemporary settings?. As a sibling to another Toei film from 1980, Toward the Terra, Legend of the Super Galaxy, like it’s twin, is a reflection of anime at that time. A large scale space opera that is in and of itself a fine film of action, drama and compassion (why can’t they make ’em like this anymore?); this is what drew me to anime in the first place and stills harkens me back for more. We have a showcase for a big budget franchise that has heart, soul and a plot beyond dazzle and display. I’ll keep this one on my shelf.

#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 😉