#155 : Phoenix/Hi no Tori: Space Chapter

YSC_1The distances between stars or planets can be compared to some of the relationships we have with the closest people we see on a daily basis; many times it can be vast and wide. How well do we really know each other by way of how each of us truly feels about each other? A more intriguing thought, what secrets do we conceal, or what elements from our past do we struggle with that haunt us and affect our current relationships? The final production of Madhouse’s adaptations of Osamu Tezuka’s collective Phoenix manga, The Space Chapter, would leave historic Japan behind for the far future and outer space and would deal with these issues of inner space head on. The lessons of karma, duty and fate are yet again front and center stage.

YSC_2Bias here, this is my personal favorite of the three as this is the most psychological, the darkest and the most passionate in terms of relationship dynamics. As an OVA set in the far future, in deep outer space and with highly advanced technology you would think the clothes of science fiction would overtake the content of the the story’s relationship dynamics with spectacle and fantasy. The Space Chapter is a great example of science fiction done very well by integrating both and pushing the intensity even higher. Outer space can be a place where much contemplation can be observed and where isolation, or being alone, can bring out the best and worst in all of us. If Ingmar Bergman borrowed the set from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to make a movie, I think this would be the product… except in this case it is animated and not live action.

YSC_3Four passengers on an interstellar spaceship are suddenly awoken from stasis to realize that the ship they are traveling on has been hit by a meteor, or something similar. In haste they rush to find their fifth comrade who was piloting and watching over the ship had mysteriously died during their sleep. Realizing the damage is beyond repair, they all decide to all abandon ship in separate escape capsules. Now adrift in space alone with limited air and food, the situation becomes one of survival and opening up about their mysterious fifth crew member. Everyone had a different story to tell. He was rumored to be immortal and forever young. He also seemed to be an android from medical examinations. There were even romantic feelings between him and the lone female crew member. His last words left in the ships log struck a note of fear in the others, someone was out to kill him. Who could it be?

YSC_4To add more drama to our story a mysterious fifth capsule appears and catches up with the other four belonging to the fallen mystery man, including signs of a passenger. One by one the original four members would be reduced to two leaving the remaining duo to land on a mysterious planet. From here the story’s mysteries begin to twist even more with the ultimate truths coming out. … and what of our friend the phoenix? She is most definitely here and is a very integral part of the story as she has a very special relationship with our mysterious crew member. The lessons of karma and balance abound with his past as we see the corruption of what was a good innocent man showing a side of evil that we wish did not exist in humanity.

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Wicked City, Ninja Scroll), the inclusion of his personal touch is seen throughout the OVA, minus the super heavy action he is often noted for. The stylized character designs add a layer of maturity to Tezuka’s originals and mixed with Madhouse’s signature heavy use of limited color (blue for this OVA) in the capsule scenes and stark lighting add to this production’s intensity. While this may have been the final outing for Phoenix in the 1980s it would not be the last overall (the 13 episode TV series from the early 2000s is great!). Osamu Tezuka’s work is key and essential for all of us who regard ourselves as fans of Japanese animation. This trilogy as a whole (Karma Chapter and Yamato Chapter) is one of the best examples of the output from the 1980s and is finally now a part of the Classic Anime Museum. It has been a long time coming.

#145 : Crying Freeman

CF_1Crying Freeman… sex and violence… sexy people and intense fighting… bare naked bodies with tattoos and death on the par with Fist of the North Star. If action movies could be infused with cheesy late night erotic dramas they would come out as Crying Freeman. It’s like Golgo 13 sans the James Bond references and stoicism and injected instead with yakuza culture and a protoganist who is more humane than a cold blooded killing machine. Crying Freeman: not politically correct, over the top, erotic and totally not for children… it’s the type of anime that when you were young you stayed up and waited for you parents to go to sleep so you can experience it without their knowledge of what you were doing in the wee hours of the morning. “Hey kids when are you all gonna get some shut eye?”

CF_2Don’t ask my why, but the first episode of Crying Freeman does two things for me. One, I think of the George Michael song Careless Whisper, why was this not on the soundtrack it would have been amazing? “I’m never gonna dance again, Guilty feet have got no rhythm…” And then that saxophone line hits and then it’s all over… Now number two, I laugh and laugh hard. For an OVA that takes itself so seriously on being a ridiculous ultimate fantasy of masculine cock swagger, one can’t help but chuckle at times. Crying Freeman is not a comedy, but it sure can pass as one. In a total of six episodes I can recommend the first two as it sets the foundation of the story and I leave it up to you to finish the final four. By then it becomes repetitive and a top this crazy sexual, or action moment, again and again. … If anything watch the first episode, it’s so good at being bad it’s amazingly entertaining.

CF_3So here is the basic plot… a former artist is turned into a hired killer for the 108 Dragons by means of torture, interrogation and acupuncture. The only humanity left within him appears as crying when he frags someone due to a subconscious reflex. Our hero’s only hope is wanting to be a quote free man again who also has this habit of crying… now this title makes sense. During one mission he is spotted by a beautiful lady artist, which means the poor girl, who for no luck of her own accord, has to be silenced due to being a witness. She has just turned 29 and knowing that she is to be killed has only one wish. To… not… die… a virgin! OK, this is… different. Freeman eventually shows up and she confesses that he can kill her if she can go to bed with him. He agrees and it turns out… he is a virgin… too? SAY WHAT! Two gorgeous specimens of human ideal beauty and both have never had sex? Really? Seriously? Well it could happen to the best of us? You can laugh now if you wish, because I did. In the aftermath of joining together in coitus, a committed relationship would blossom and the plot now centers around Freeman saving his lover from harm. This is only the first episode and it seems so ridiculous, but I can’t help but say that I enjoyed it; who in their right mind came up with this?

CF_4The original manga was penned by the name of Kazuo Koike, who has a reputation for the bizarre and outlandish. I give this man props for being so mind blowing on a level I can’t even comprehend. The other side of course is the man who created the illustrations and character designs, one Ryochi Ikegami. He is the key to Crying Freeman’s biggest saving grace. The man’s style is beautiful and is a much more realistic rendering approach in regards to human anatomy and very much so, facial structure. This is not the usual cartoonish look most associated with anime, Ikegami’s talent is more like great figure drawing.

So often titles fit into the term ‘Manime’ (I hate that term) and Crying Freeman is no exception. The joy of Crying Freeman is in the fact that this is B-grade, maybe even C-grade schlock, but it does have a decent story… decent?… and can always be good if you need a laugh or a WTF moment. Sadly it still does not have George Michael, sigh.

#10b : GoShogun: The Time Étranger

For my original entry for GoShogun: The Time Étranger, click here.

Sometimes you have to recover your tracks in order to move forward. In terms of classic anime and in particular, GoShogun: The Time Étranger, I have a little more to say…

GTE2_1OMG! How I love this OVA, movie, story, mythos, whatever you want to call this anime. I can’t help but have bias as GoShogun: The Time Étranger means oh so much to me. Seriously!, I cry almost every time at the beginning when Remy is alone in the desert, wonders where everyone is and fires the pistol into the air. And then the five boys come out of the shadows and tell her to stay close as they are on their usual journey, which has reason, or destination except the fact that they should all stay together like a family. It does it to me every single time. In fact I feel a little teary eyed right now. What a way to start an anime! 

GTE2_2I suppose I have a bit of a thing for GoShogun? Well before I got a chance to see the TV series, I had this little gem of an oddity on my shelf and just from that alone I became obsessed with anything GoShogun. One case in point, the first Roman Album art book that I ever bought was for GoShogun: The Time Étranger. I love art books and Roman Album books are my favorite prized possessions to show off my fandom. Two, I have one of those Banpresto keychains on my backpack from the Super Robot Heroine Series with guess who? Remy Shimada of course! And in my bedroom I have an awesome framed poster of Remy and Bundle. I am kind of a fan? Yeah… kind of. The cherry that finished off the sundae though was finally seeing the original Sengoku Majin GoShogun tv series. I loved it, but GoShogun: The Time Étranger is still something I still treasure even more.

GTE2_3In truth I have to thank an old episode of Anime News Network’s podcast for finding GoShogun: The Time Étranger. An episode about top 10 lists for the 1980s and it was Justin Sevakis’ choosing of GoShogun: The Time Étranger that made me prick up my ears. I had to find a copy as soon as possible as the synopsis he gave was inviting and the comparisons to the filmic styles of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini really gave me a buzz. Thankfully in my area of the world we did have a DVD release at the time, so that became a no-brainer of a purchase. After one watch I liked it. After two viewings, I loved it. Then came three… and then it became muscle memory for both memorizing lines and pure connection. Can an anime become a good friend? I certainly think so.

GTE2_4GoShogun: The Time Étranger has action, suspense, surrealism and great drama with a cast that I fell in love with immediately. Funny how a group of people resonate with you so quickly. I put it down to fate; we were destined to meet each other! Many key cast members were absent from the OVA that were cornerstone to the TV series: Kenta Sanada, Sabarath, OVA, NeoNeros and even the GoShogun robot (unless you count the cameo as a mirror decoration in Remy’s car). Yet  the big six remain: Shingo, Killy, Bundle, Kernagul, Cuttnal and of course Madame Remy. OK, why all the attention on Remy? Am I playing favorites here? (yeah kinda, lol) GoShogun: The Time Étranger is wholly her movie, her story, her great homage that looks back at several key areas during her life where she had to face death head on and with sheer willpower and love, survives each time. A true passion to live life to the fullest. A ray of hope in a time of need and a message to never forget. This is why GoShogun: The Time Étranger is not just another anime in my collection, but is truly an honest friend.

…and also, Bundle delivers one of the best classic lines that I often throw out even though no one has a clue what it is as GoShogun: The Time Étranger is not a mainstream piece of entertainment. In regards to a motorcycle he ends up ‘borrowing’ and riding on, “It isn’t stolen, merely rented without the benefit of paperwork.” GREAT!

#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

For an updated perspective on GoShogun: The Time Étranger, click here.

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.