#115 : Project A-Ko

PAK_1Who needs Prozac when instead you can have Project A-Ko instead. You will have zero side effects, except having a big smile on your face and laughing most of the time. Now that’s a prescription we can all agree on. An 80s otaku’s wet dream of self referential parody fit into a sci-fi school comedy that has a plot so big and out of left field that it could only be… well, brilliant. A staple for any collection, the one, the only, the Project A-Ko.

PAK_2If ever an anime encapsulates the decade of the 1980s (well at least up to 1986 at least), it was Project A-Ko. Rising from the ashes of a failed pornographic project (odd start, eh?), Project A-Ko would turn into a self referential love fest for 80s otaku culture. And in case you miss the references to classics such as Macross, Captain Harlock, Fist of the North Star and Creamy Mami just to name a few, you are still in good hands. A joke is a joke and humor knows no boundary, but if you get the reference, you laugh twice as hard 🙂 Also of note is that we have another level of parody. Wait… more? OH YES! Heard of Jackie Chan? He had a movie out at this time known as Project A and this as well crept it’s way into the film in no minor way by of the title itself.

PAK_3The plot of Project A-Ko encapsulates around a triangular relationship. Super-heroic (literally) A-Ko/Eiko is the best friend of perhaps the queen of all crybabies, C-Ko/Shiiko. They laugh, walk to school and go shopping together. Plus, they are in the same class; talk about being tied to the hip! This does not bode well with another fellow classmate, the snobby rich girl B-Ko/Biko. She wants C-Ko for her own and jealousy exudes on to how she can foil the impressive A-Ko with various nefarious plots including using her posse, building mechs and finally making a powered suit that leaves little to the imagination. This suit and the final fight she starts with A-Ko to claim her supremacy becomes the center point of climactic action and in my opinion the cornerstone of this film. Beyond a normal high school cat fight, this altercation between A-Ko and B-Ko is more like a beautiful dance than an all out brawl.

PAK_4And if that wasn’t enough for a plot, let’s also add in some humanoid aliens who are in search of their long lost princess… C-Ko. Bizarre beyond definition is why everyone, and I mean everyone has something for C-Ko? She is one annoying character don’t you think? To each there own I suppose. Loud, immature and lacking in cooking skills (scary bento lunches) and as I said before the chronic crybaby. I am not here to judge, but I must call into question the rationality for begrudged rich girls and alcohol infused alien ship captains. Then again, rationality and this film are distant cousins six times removed.

Outside the plot, there is another memorable piece that is special to Project A-Ko, namely the soundtrack. Not because it fits the movie so well and encapsulates the era, but because it represents rarity back in ye olden days of anime. The soundtrack was outsourced to a couple young musicians, Joey Carbone and Richie Zito, in the Los Angeles area. This Japanese product used American music sensibilities to spice it up it’s presentation. The East met and collaborated with the West on a project decades before it became commonplace to our zeitgeist. Besides the instrumental tracks written and performed by the boys, there were three stand out songs sung by three different ladies. One of whom was none other than Samantha Newark, better known as Jem of Jem and the Holograms. Samantha of course was the speaking voice of Jem, but this movie showcased the fact that her voice acting wasn’t her only talent. She is a diva of a singer as well.

Project A-Ko is simply too much fun. An entertaining movie that never takes itself too seriously. The exception though would be in the drawing department. Project A-Ko is an animation playhouse created by individuals who expressed their joys and talents into a project that may just be the best goofy action movie ever made.

#107 : Cyborg 009 (1966 movie)

Cyborg 009 equals the epitome of ‘Old School’. Or, perhaps that is a mistranslation; I prefer ‘Old is Cool’. Because with age comes wisdom, or so I keep telling myself as I keep adding up solar cycles and still retain the heart and soul of my youth. A product of the 1960s, Cyborg 009 reflects the era with the rise and hope of big technology, growing social equality and Cold War politics. Cyborg 009 represents a story about brand new heroes in a (once long ago) modern age heading towards an uncertain future.

C009_movie_1Many adaptations of this Shotaro Ishinomori manga have see the light of day, but this film from 1966 was the very first time the cyborg soldiers of Professor Gilmore came to life on a screen brought to you by the great old studio, Toei Animation. The story begins simply with a young race car driver, Jo Shimamura, becoming involved in a nasty crash (knife in a tire, yikes!) and is subsequently hauled off in a mysterious ambulance. He soon awakens to find he now has incredible powers, including an ability to run extremely fast, and new clothes as well (I like the new threads man). Jo has had cybornetic enchantments and is now known as Cyborg 009 (you are the star of the show my friend, hooray), a tool for the evil counter organization Black Ghost (great name). 009 also meets eight other cyborgs, his new fellow comrades, who rebel against Black Ghost in the name of justice and freedom. An uprising ensues as the team of nine cyborgs kidnap Professor Gilmore and escape.

C009_movie_2Often Cyborg 009 can be seen as Japan’s version of the X-Men. Yet I see them as one of the great early examples of a sentai squad. Ishinmori should know that concept very well as he is the creator of the Super Sentai live action genre. But then again, I see the cyborgs as a reinvention of family. There is a tight bond between these nine individuals and even though they all come from different countries, ethnicities and backgrounds, they fight together and care for each other. Very forward thinking and yet perfect for the 1960s and even today to show that no matter who you are, or where you are from, we are all brothers and sister of the human race. It’s the formation of the greater family you can build when you embrace diversity and individuality. We all have a role and a part to play to help the greater good, it’s just all of us lack the technological enhancements of our brave nine heroes.

C009_movie_3There are a few oddities I caught from this release compared to the more popular, or better known releases of Cyborg 009. First, 009, is clad in white while the others have their uniforms in purple. All except 003, she gets to be closest to most adaptations with a pinkish shade of the standard red. And red is also the color of her hair, instead of the usual flaxen hue I am used to. Do blondes have more fun? Not this time around, it’s all about the auburn. And for some reason 007 (who is British, love the James Bond in joke) is portrayed as a kid. These characteristics are also carried into the second film, Cyborg 009: Monster Wars (on my radar to find) and the first TV series of 1968.

C009_movie_4Though the art style might be archaic to our more modern eyes and honestly this may not have been the most sophisticated film made at the time, Cyborg 009 makes up for it with pure fun. This feels like a period television series amped up just slightly, including cinemascope widescreen (fancy), that still retains much of the simple limited animation used during the era. Think Astro Boy and Speed Racer as a frame of reference. Yet it is a very attractive movie with bold colors and designs. If you are looking for a basic starter into Cyborg 009, this movie is a great option as it is action packed and about an hour long. Plus you’ll get to experience Cyborg 009 during the time of it’s genesis with all the hope, innocence and at times cheesiness that made the 1960s so great. For without the likes of Cyborg 009Speed Racer, or Astro Boy, we would not have the fruits of all the great animation that we treasure today. Thank you Cyborg 009 and thank you Shotaro Ishinomori.

#99 : The Guyver: Out of Control

GOoC_1Do you know The Guyver? Sure you may be aware of the epic 12-episode OVA that was released from 1989, or that more recent version of 2005, or the manga, or even those very interesting (often characterized as bad) live acton B-movies. But there is another Guyver, a simpler Guyver, a one and done OVA kind of Guyver. It dates from 1986 and it is so rad and tubular (sorry I am going back to my 80s slang days), so ‘out of control’ (it’s in the name of the title after all) and kind of forgotten as well that I wonder if this is a legitimate entry for all that is The Guyver? Of course it is! This may be a dust gathering artifact from the golden age of the genesis of 80s OVAs, but it still counts! This was and is and always shall be The Guyver: Out of Control.

GOoC_2To date, this is the only Guyver that I have seen. I want to change this, not that I was impressed beyond belief with Guyver, but I feel it is worthy to see a more flushed out version of this story. The Guyver: Out of Control is just under an hour and it works very well as a one stop shop for an all out action extravaganza. Similar to Baoh, except our hero was not a test subject run amuck. Sho Fukamachi, our hero, after seeing an explosion from a battle in the distance comes into contact with an odd circular metallic object that he has to pick up and hold. After all being an average high school student, this is different and kind of cool… you got to pick it up… and then you pay the price.

This disc like object ends up turning Sho into one of the most streamlined, and perhaps very dangerous looking, superhero/fighter by having all these coils wrap around him. Ewww… just like tentacles, what the…? This is not weird fetish porn! This is proper action anime here! … At least Sho was not stripped of his clothes. Oh and look, now those guys from the previous battle from afar become the focus of Sho and steal his girlfriend. Bad idea! Now Sho has to fight up against the so called Chronos Corporation and yet another Guyver unit, who started out life as a beautiful redhead and in the process rescue his beloved lady. It’s so cheesy, but you got to love it anyway.

GOoC_3The irony of The Guyver: Out of Control is due to the fact that ‘don’t let the cover determine how you read the book.’ Case in point, the character designs of Toyoo Ashida with their large round eyes (isn’t that what everyone says about anime anyway?) don’t really show just how… violent… this OVA is. But then again, Ashida directed the Fist of the North Star and Vampire Hunter D movies (Hiroshi Watanabe directed this one), so perhaps these designs were a good choice? But seeing the promo materials makes me think initially of Minky Momo or Vifam (both in Ashida’s portfolio) and that this will be kind of a cute production. No Luck Chuck! This is like Fist of the North Star, Vampire Hunter D, or even… M.D. Geist (Eee!) type of violence. Wait a minute… I just mentioned Fist of the North Star and Vampire Hunter D twice (actually three!) … ok, then these character designs are fitting. Maybe? I like them anyway! Next paragraph…

GOoC_4Do you remember a time when anime was promoted as violent, mature and all that jazz? Yeah, those VHS days of the 90s only pigeonholed anime as a singular focused medium, kind of like Seattle music and Grunge. Of course we know much better now as to the variety of what there is in anime. And thank goodness, except The Guyver: Out of Control is actually a decent story, has a plot and some moral sense. It’s not mindless action and violence without a purpose.

… by the way, and this is a quote from the story, Guyver means out of control. … so then this title is simply doubling itself? Maybe it should have been called Guyver-squared?

#78 : Saint Seiya: The Movies

Saint Seiya, oh how I love thee, let me count the ways… I can forgive many of the short comings of Saint Seiya. In essence, it is a run of the mill shonen fighter, but the inclusion of Greek mythology, astrology and heavy melodrama make it a heavy favorite for me. The original TV series I love dearly, the manga was great, the Hades Arc OVAs which finished the original manga adaptation was welcomed. A couple years ago, the company Discotek released a bunch of SS materials. I bought a few of these DVDs and here is what came of that purchase.

SS_M_1I will only make comment on the four SS films that were released from 1987 to 1989. All of these were released by Discotek and fall into my blog’s concentration on anime of the 1970s and 1980s. Several other productions would appear decades later, but these four titles will be under the spotlight: Evil Goddess Eris (1987), The Heated Battle of the Gods (1988), Legend of Crimson Youth (1988) and Warriors of the Final Holy Battle (1989). All four are out of canon to the original manga and ironically The Heated Battle of the Gods is an alternative to the filler Asgard Arc from the TV series. These films are more for fun and I am sure were created to keep the SS marketing machine going.

SS_M_2All four movies are very cliche and are so formulaic that I end up predicting the whole plot before the beginning credits. Though each film has it’s own pace and variation on the so called theme, or leitmotif of the fightype formula of successive adversaries leading up to, they all kind of go like this… A great arch enemy descends and brings five subordinates. In the process Saori/Athena either gets kidnapped, or wooed away (if this enemy is oh so charming and handsome). Then our five Bronze Saints begin there quest to save their sacred leader. Usually Pegasus Seiya goes first and then gets that crap kicked out of him, but defeats the adversary. Next comes Cygnus Hyoga and the process repeats and then we get to Dragon Shiryu. He as well falls after a great fight, but Shiryu ends up having his cloth removed because we all have to witness his owe so muscular chest. Seriously, watch any SS and this always happen.

SS_M_3Next we get a double feature with Andromeda Shun, the ‘cute’ one who is more of a pacifist, also falls victim to his adversary. And that is when Shun’s brother Phoenix Ikki shows up and says, “Yo, you be messin’ with my brother? I’m gonna mess you up good!” Then Ikki puts the smack down. Seriously, always bailing out your younger brother. When will Shun learn to take care of himself? Later, Athena falls into further peril and all five of the boys, though being deeply beaten, trek towards the final showdown to take down the big bad enemy. All five boys take a stand one at a time and then like a miracle of the heavens, the Sagittarius Gold Cloth appears. Of course it chooses Seiya every time and all the boys cry out “Seiya, Seiya” and after that… Seiya reborn to perfection and full of strength draws the bow to shoot the golden arrow to save the day. Then all is happy ever after. …you can’t make this all up?

SS_M_4Of the four films, three are 45 minute shorts so it makes sense that they are not the most deep in regards for plot. You are cramming a supposed arc into less than an hour! The third film, Legend of Crimson Youth, which is over an hour long, has a plot that bends the predictive formula and has a bit more drama and… is my favorite of the four. Plus, in this film, we see the resurrection and inclusion of the five Gold Saints who fell during the Sanctuary Arc of the TV series: Gemini Saga, Cancer Deathmask, Capricorn Shura, Aquarius Camus and Pisces Aphrodite. Gold Saints forever!, they add to the plot greatly. This was also a film which celebrated the 20th anniversary of SS’s parent publisher, Shonen Jump.

So in final, I would watch these one at a time and… Nothing is ever a substitute for that original Sanctuary arc of the TV series 🙂 These are, as mentioned earlier, sideline stories that are not a part of the original plot so take these for what you will.

#53 : Science Ninja Team Gatchaman

I have never got the whole idea of the American superhero. Batman and some of X-Men are OK, but the way our media over here has portrayed ‘heroes’ has left me a little flat… i.e. Superman. Now, I love this stuff from Japan, what if they only had something to offer? Oh wait, they do? Lots of options you say. OK then, how about a sentai task force that wears thigh high boots? After all superheroes wear only calf high boots, BORING! So what do we have to watch kids? How about Science Ninja Team Gatchaman? Bird… GO!

GM_1Gatchaman is one of the oldest series to have influence here in the west. Maybe not to the caliber of say Speed Racer, but for those of you who saw the original Stars Wars film in theaters during 1977, you were in for a surprise. The next year, we would get an adaptation known as Battle of the Planets and with all the Hanna Barbara-esque edits, the original essense of Tatsunoko’s work could still be seen. Much the same way in how I viewed Voltron back in the those innocent days of the mid 1980s. And it would be the mid 80s that G-Force Defenders of Space, another Gatchaman adaptation would grace us here in the west. And being that both of these adaptations were during the so-called wild west period of bringing animation over from Japan, a cult following would emerge for the bird costumed quintet.

GM_2As a kid and teenager I mistakingly thought when looking at the show that, “…hey! This is a copycat of Voltron.” I can’t blame my ignorance at the time, but how was a to know that Gatchaman (1972) beat out the like of Beast King GoLion (1981) by a decade. Of course, I know better now. It was Gatchaman itself that would lay the groundwork for the sentai team esthestic that would influence everything from Super Sentai/Power Rangers to mecha shows like Combattler V, Voltes V and GoLion and even shojo magical girls like say… Sailor Moon. Though previously you had titles that featured a team, like say Cyborg 009, Gatchaman would simplify the principle.

GM_3And that principle is the stock and trade quintet: The strong leader (Ken), The rebel (Joe), The cute girl (Jun), the kid (Junpei) and the big guy (Ryu). How many times have we seen this combo? I know I have, maybe it has been modified slightly for whatever show, but that is the standard. Everyone brings their individual strength towards the greater group. So the question has to be, why does this Gatchaman team exist? As created by Dr. Nambu with the aid of modern technology and ninja skills, the purpose of The Gatchaman Team is to bring down the evil organization determined to rule the world… Cobra? No, no, that’s G.I. Joe. Try again… how about Galactor? Yeah that’s the way. And with the leadership of the androgynous Berg Katse and the mysterious Leader X, how will Galactor attempt to foil Gatchaman this week?

Getting back to the beginning in regards to American superheroes, I can’t deny they are an influence on this creation by Tatsunoko Studios. But also tokusatsu/special effects shows of say Ultraman and the idea of being a ninja warrior bring a Japanese spin onto an American invention. Super powers are out, but being skilled, silent and quick are in. Also having a very groovy taste in both fashion and music. This was 1972 after all and the hippie aesthetic was still strong. And that theme song, which was the original ending credits music, is one of the best openings I have ever heard. It simply rocks and in typical seventies fashion it features a brass section, loud guitar and a driving beat.

GM_4So why do I enjoy Gatchaman? Well, why not? The premise is simple and fun and at times repetitive. Ken is not a complete goodie-goodie and has issues regarding the whereabouts of his father. Joe, is the prototypical lone wolf, but he is very endearing and his demise by the end of the show brought tears to my eyes. Berg Katse is an interesting villain with a secret of his own. The quality of the animation for it’s day is very fluid and the use of special effects like lighting (with a spot light no less) and explosions (sometimes with psychedelic like liquids) are handled in ways you don’t see in anime today. It was one of those shows that called out to me and I had to answer to it because after all. we all need heroes to look up to from time to time.

Sometimes they are five, sometimes only one; the white shadow that stalks close to the heart on my sleeve known as the love of anime. They are the Science Ninja Team and they totally belong my collection shelf.