#108 : They Were 11

TW11_1Now for that age old question… what do you want to be when you grow up? The more appropriate version I would say is… when you mature what identity, or role, will you tie your life towards. For a group of young students in a far off sci-fi future these questions amongst many others will be answered as they learn to live with each other and understand what is important and true for themselves. In 1986, these students were the focus of a feature film by the name of They Were 11.

TW11_2Imagine having to pass a final exam as if your life was on the line, literally! Groupings of ten students have to board spaceships and survive on what is available and solve any problems without guidance. If you need to call for help, even just once, you have to forfeit the idea of graduation. As the story begins we have an immediate problem. This group of ten students we will be with during the story numbers one more. We have eleven students instead of ten, which means one of them is either a stow a way, an imposter and maybe even a threat. Who can it be? Everyone seems to be a suspect, yet all of them have legitimate reasons for being part of this final test. As the story unfolds, the drama grows as problems and issues ensue and trust becomes difficult between these eleven as one of them seems to intuitively understand the ship and certain circumstances better than the rest of the group. This would be enough for any other tale, but They Were 11 has even more to tell.

TW11_3The eleven students all come from different backgrounds. Many of them come from royalty, or well to do families and are in school to essentially follow their family’s traditions. These students are locked into their own paradigms and don’t have much choice for their lives. Tada, one of our main protagonists, is an exception as he is a highly gifted young man from a modest background and is making his way based on his talents instead of his lineage. Add to this, Tada begins to awaken to esper and psychic abilities, plus repressed memories from his childhood, that makes him quite suspect to the others. Frol, our other primary protagonist, is a young feminine androgyne who desperately wants to fit in and be one of the boys due to male privilege and freedom. Frol’s questioning of gender is the other major focus of They Were 11 as Frol comes to terms with the fact that in heart, soul and body a woman she is meant to be. A relationship soon develops between both Tada and Frol as they both share each other’s company, ideas and struggles.

TW11_4So many times space opera is a showdown of spaceships, laser beams, battle tactics and macho bravado, or perhaps, stern military seriousness. Many examples can follow these traits and do it successfully, but They Were 11 goes against this trend. Instead we have a story about relationship, characterization, love and sacrifice set in a future outer space environment. Sounds more like a shojo type of story than the usual shonen/seinen and by jove it is; one of my all time favorite’s of the designation. Instead of the bombast of say a full symphony orchestra, we have a string quartet. And though the size is smaller in scale, the power behind the meaning being expressed may be a little more intense. This is space opera treated as traditional drama for the stage; They Were 11 is dramatic theater, a play, set to animation.

They Were 11 tackles many difficult issues and does it all with grace and dignity. The original manga was the creation of one the best from the Year 24 Group, Moto Hagio, a woman who I have heard was the female equivalent to the great Osamu Tezuka. They Were 11 is a story that represents themes of self discovery and aspiring not to become someone, but to embrace an inner truth in ourselves that only we know to be correct. In a year that saw the release of Studio Ghibli’s first film Castle in the Sky and one of my all time favorite’s Windaria, They Were 11 represents a true dark horse that deserves more attention and recognition; an awesome and inspiring movie.

#10 : GoShogun: The Time Étranger

It is time to be a bit sentimental. Can you show me an opening sequence that brings a tear to my eye? This one does! I have yet to see the entire original GoShogun series due to the fact that the only source I have found has no subtitles (speaking from August 2016). And yet it does not matter as this follow up, this movie or OVA, is enough of a stand alone piece that it works without any real prior knowledge. How we in the west got this without the original series (Macron 5 doesn’t really count this time) is a mystery? But life is a joyous mystery indeed.

TimeE1I heard of this one from a few people put this production into their 80s Top 10 listings and it sparked my interest to seek out this OVA. And I found it for around $5, nice deal! But what is this OVA, GoShogun: The Time Étranger? Étranger, that’s French for stranger. FANCY! Just don’t be confused with a similar production translated as Time Stranger, as that is a Studio Madhouse movie from 1986, this is a 1985 production. GoShogun: The Time Étranger was a follow-up OVA to a mecha series from 1981, Sengoku Majin GoShogun. This was a bit of a parody series where you have a group of three good guys (one being a very pretty lady) and three bad guys who eventually become the ultimate team of six friends. That was 1981, so what happened four years later? A bit of a tone shift.

Remember that lady I mentioned earlier. Her name name is Remy Shimada and she is the star of this OVA. Not only that, but I will be really honest here… I think of her as one of the most beautiful women in all of anime. She favors Voltron’s Princess Allura (Farla if you are a GoLion fan), but she has awesomely better hair. And she is voiced by Mami Toyama; love her voice (also Veronica Taylor gives a great performance in the dub)! ANYWAY… we begin with her in the desert where she asks, “Where am I? Where is everyone?” She then pulls out this massive revolver, points in to the sky and shoots. She turns and hears distant shots in the background and then… her five friends from the past emerge and comes toward her with anticipation and happiness. Isn’t that beautiful? I need a tissue folks; this scene does it to me every time I see it.

TimeE2So Time Étranger, the time stranger, where does this come into play? Simply put this production is told over three different times in Remy’s life. The first being her childhood in France (ah hence the French spelling perhaps?), the second a surreal environment during the time of the original GoShogun series (where she is approximately 20) and the third, the so-called present where Remy is all of 70 years old though she does not look a day over twenty (at least what we see of her, which is very little). All three segments are spliced together in a style very remeniscent to that of Federico Fellini’s surreal 8 1/2 (highly recommend this movie), with a heavy dose of suspense and drama that stands as a dichotomy from the original TV series. Also, each of these three episodes from Remy’s life all have one commonality, she ends up fighting for her life. How does she survive through each circumstance?

TimeE3I want to go back to the what I mentioned earlier; how did this OVA release in the west, particularly North America? I often think when I watch this about switching the characters from something more well known to me, say the Voltron/GoLion cast? There is enough room to allow this as the story is not tied into GoShogun particularly. This could be a great live action film, but I think it would loose it’s intimate flavor that I have grown to have with this production. But when one thinks of a follow-up or a so-called sequel, this OVA should be THE yardstick that any other production, live-action or animation, should follow. That and a few of the one-liners are priceless, ex: “It isn’t stolen, merely rented without the benefit of paperwork.” Timeless. And would you believe this was an early work for the director of Pokémon, Kunihiko Yuyama?

In the end what I learned from this OVA is that no matter how bad things can go somebody, somewhere wants to have you around and the inner strength you have for yourself to fight each and every day to give it your best shot is all that really matters. It’s very cliché, but this is a spiritual and special cliche interpretation for me. If people wonder why I love anime, this is one of the strongest examples. I even doubled dipped for this one (it’s worth the two separate DVD versions, long live Central Park Media). Funny how some of the more obscure titles become the ones that stick the most to your experience. But, that is why I am still mining the classic era (this is my opinion, yours can vary) of anime. GoShogun: The Time Stranger, you are truly a friend I love in a very special way.