#151 : Inspector Gadget

I have a call on my secret hotline phone. Be right back … “Oh hey Chief (wait?… I have a boss?)… what… you’re where?… Wow Chief! I didn’t recognize you.”

“Here’s your assignment Classic Anime Museum.”

“This time review Inspector Gadget, as this was quite a popular cartoon during the 1980s and has spun off into several reboots. Of course focus on the original here as it was animated in Japan even though it was created for the Western market and watch out for M.A.D. agents. … This message will self destruct.”

“Got that Classic Anime Museum?”

“Sure thing. The Classic Anime Museum is always on duty. Oh by the way here is your note back.”

BOOM!!!… Now cue up that theme song that borrows themes from Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and let’s get started! Go Gadget Go!

IG_1Ah yes, I remember Inspector Gadget very well. Who didn’t? OK some people who watched cartoons as a kid in the 1980s may not have had the opportunity, but I think that would be a rarity with this show. Inspector Gadget was huge and is one of those shows that is beautiful in being very neutral in presentation. Thank you for not shoehorning specific demographic requirements DiC. The only requirement is the asking of, “do you want a funny show, a very silly show?” Simple. Now then, Inspector Gadget may not have been my top pick for a cartoon as a kid (say what?), but I did enjoy it and remember it very fondly. Maybe because it had a weird time slot and it often was on when I was still in school (can I skip class?) and the only opportunity to watch the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ was on days off (hello summer break!). Thank goodness for today’s DVD releases and streaming sources. Needless to say, 80s cartoons without Inspector Gadget is like cereal without milk, peanut butter with out jelly… you get the idea.

IG_2Our hero, this man Gadget, is either the world’s greatest police officer, or just plain clueless. I vote for the later. He always solves his cases, but seems to have hidden help from his pet dog Brain and his niece Penny, a.k.a. the real problem solver. In truth, Penny is the true hero of this show and Uncle Gadget is the comic relief, as well as the star of the show. So the question that begs to be asked is how did these cases end up getting solved? Answer… fantastical 80s sci-fi style technology! Penny uses a computer book to find or calculate out all her answers and theories to learn what Dr. Claw and his M.A.D. agents are up to. Who needs a MacBook Pro? That and her well mannered intuition compliments Gadget’s total lack of analysis. If you have to do a job right, give it to a kid, they are smarter than you think!

IG_3Each episode, or case if you will, is much like a 12-bar blues song and follows an almost strict formula. See enough episodes in a row and you begin to almost predict the next move, or scene strategically like in a game of chess. Just don’t over do it, one need never to get bored of Inspector Gadget. The concept of the show is partly a parody, or maybe more so an homage to the spy and police genres as a whole. Mix together one part Get Smart, one part James Bond, one part Mission Impossible and one part the The Pink Panther. Shake with a little French, Canadian and American pre-production via the legendary company DiC and finally garnish with stellar production animation from the Japanese Studio TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and you get Inspector Gadget. Also adding in the iconic voice work of Don Adams for Gadget does not hurt either. This of course draws on his former work in Get Smart, but I often think what if Peter Sellers had a shot at the role? Recalling the references to The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, this could have been up Sellers’ alley, though I would want him to keep his native British accent. This is total bias from a Sellers fan so… let’s continue on shall we (where’s my copy of Dr. Strangelove?).

IG_4Inspector Gadget… never fear as our hero is always on duty. I do fear for those poor M.A.D. agents who end up finding Gadget is more harm than help in regards to solving a case. I hope M.A.D. has a good insurance package. That being said I am glad Gadget is on our side, but it begs the follow question, since the original release back in 1983, is Gadget still fighting crime today? Are Penny and Brain still around? Does Penny use a Macbook Pro now? Could Gadget be near retirement? Will we ever see Dr. Claw’s face? One will never know. GO GO GADGET FOREVER!!

#149 : Space Fantasia: 2001 Nights

How hard do you like your sci-fi? Aliens, fancy costumes, or flashy warp driving all around the universe have a place, but for this entry I will to put all that into a corner for just a moment. Let instead examine something more humane, slower paced and based in a probable future reality with technology that seems just around the corner. Something more based on the likes of Issac Assimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, or Stanislav Lem. In 1987 a now rare and often over looked one off release would provide answers to the questions stated. I present you with Space Fantasia: 2001 Nights.

2001N_1What if 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Solaris (and I am talking the original Soviet version) could have their essences juiced into the form of 1980s Japanese animation? Space Fantasia: 2001 Nights is beautiful looking for a simple OVA, with those Akio Sugino characters and the craft of TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha), that speaks of science fiction for a more mature palette. Yet 2001 Nights does not hold a candle to Kubrick’s 2001 or Tarkovsky’s Solaris, but it works in a more limited space. Both of these live action films in my opinion are sublime masterpieces though also very slow and tough to swallow at times. True auteur genius at work! So an outright comparison may be unfair, but it will be a starting point. On a personal note 2001 (Kubrick’s) is still one of my all time favorite films so when I found an anime called 2001 Nights I had to give it a try. And what I found was a story about hope, ambition and struggle all guised under the moniker of the true bond of love within one’s family.

2001N_2Could this be an odd play on the story Swiss Family Robinson? The story of 2001 Nights surrounds a family named Robinson… suprise. We begin with a married couple who volunteers frozen sperm and eggs that are sent on a far intergalactic voyage to populate a new planet since Earth is in it’s closing chapters. All the eventual offspring travel aboard a spaceship tied to a comet… a very clever way to travel. One by one the children are born giving a final total of 23, that eventually is cut by one due to a contracted illness. Once the spacecraft lands these 22 children are given an unspoiled utopia of a planet, a natural sight to be seen. The Robinson’s meanwhile have one child on Earth as well and he eventually plays into the role of the plot that by the end all becomes full circle.

2001N_32001 Nights shows a true testament of faith and belief in something higher than one’s self. A spiritual essence that we are not alone and someone is always watching out for you. And not whatever you call “God”, or aliens, but something more simple. Call it just mom and dad, or big brother. All life begins with a dream and in 2001 Nights the dream of growing beyond the limitations of a polluted Earth to start again fresh and unspoiled takes the ultimate paramount. Man playing “God”? Or maybe Man as the divine image of the essence of “God”, the universe, the great creator just continuing the very process that very beganoh so long ago. A new “Genesis” perhaps in the garden of not Eden, but Ozma instead?

2001N_4Originally based on the also named manga of 2001 Nights, the anime version takes a small bite out of the much larger story. Or perhaps, this is one plot interspersed in with several more that may end up all being one story in the end? The Robinson family’s tale is among these stories and I can admit this as I have a fragment of the 2001 Nights original release from VIZ. Some say the manga is better, but if you take the time to rewatch this hour long OVA a couple times, and connect the dots from previous viewings, you will begin to see the magic unfold. 2001 Nights is a treat and a blessing to those of us who still yearn for science fiction, space travel and wondering what is out there in the big unknown darkness, but have grown to accept more mature storytelling tastes.

#130 : Chie the Brat

ctb_1If there is one truth of Isao Takahata, is that he is a master storyteller who uses the most basic fundamentals of human relationship dynamics. Takahata’s partner in crime at Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, can wow a crowd with his knack for showmanship and feeling. Yet Takahata’s work is more reserved, quieter and yet it has a charm that Miyazaki just can’t touch. In the handful of years before the founding of Studio Ghibli, that being the early 1980s, Takahata would help to create a couple gems that equal, or even at times, surpass, his work at Ghibli. The first of these was the adaptation of the manga Jarinko Chie, translated as Chie the Brat.

ctb_2Now you can say Chie the Brat is a story about everyday life in Osaka. I have come across this idea in many places, but I think this movie can mean something else. This is a story about one character, one girl, and the world she both lives in, but also the world that she has influence over. Often times we may ask ourselves what purpose do we hold in our mundane activities in this world? Many of us are not famous, or even our popular, but still we all have an impact that spreads like a ripple in water from a thrown stone. Our actions and the people we meet all create change in small, yet subtle (or even major) ways that become something greater. So a story about Osaka? Yes, but then again Chie the Brat can be a story about any town, anywhere and anyone. It’s a story about all of us no matter who we are, or where we come from!

ctb_3Let’s meet our protagonist, Chie Takemono. A working class girl, who is quite bright and intelligent, yet schooling takes a back seat as she is more often cooking skewers at her father’s little hole in the wall restaurant. Where is dad, Tetsu? Out gambling from borrowed money from his father and getting into trouble with the local syndicates. Now what about mom, Yoshie? Separated from Tetsu at the moment and occasionally she gets a visit from Chie. True Yoshie loves Tetsu, but Tetsu needs to straighten up a little. A slightly dysfunctional family? Yes, but not a cynical way. Like most relationships it an get difficult, but usually there is a compromise, or maybe perhaps a glue that can hold things together, or make things work. And of course the is Chie’s job. …Hang on a minute I forgot about someone. I can’t leave out Kotetsu. He is the ultimate and coolest character in the whole movie simply because he is a cat. A cool cat, a street fighter who is a sweetheart and Chie’s adopted friend. NOW! the family is complete.

As I mentioned before about how this film is about the influence one of us has on others that surround us, I can’t help but see a Pollyanna quality to the story. Yet Chie is not too overly optimistic, she has a little chip on her shoulder, but that’s what makes her truly… human. She has heart, but a little of an attitude. She may not be the prettiest girl on the block, but she has a beauty that is rare. She may not be perfectly book smart, but she has a strong connection with her gut intuition, which to be honest is more important than knowing outright ‘facts’. It would be interesting to see the story beyond Chie’s years of youth because if she can harness those qualities she could become a very successful adult.

ctb_4

So yet another gem helmed by the venerable Isao Takahata. This entry covers the film version, but there was also a television series that began the same year of 1981 (in case you need more Chie in your life). I don’t think Takahata was affiliated with the series, but I could be wrong. I had enough of a time getting my hands on this film version and graciously I was happy to get the chance to have the opportunity to watch this one. I rank Chie the Brat highly as one of Takahata’s best films if not his best (depending on my mood and the day of course). If you can find this one I won’t recommend you should watch it… I demand you watch 😉

#116 : Aim for the Ace (TV series)

AftAtv_1The sun beats down as sweat drips from your forehead onto your hands. Those hands are gripping a tennis racket and as you pant for a moment of breathe you concentrate your stare upwards to your opponent. It’s your turn to serve, its match point and you are about to finish the game of your life. … (shakes head) … Wow, daydreaming really takes your mind away from where you are. Almost as if you are in the ‘game’ so to speak; the game of tennis in this instance. We are not here to discuss the actual sport itself, but an anime about a girl’s rise into the world of high school tennis. Serve, smash, volley… welcome to the original TV adaptation of Aim for the Ace.

AftAtv_2For shojo sports anime, Aim for the Ace is perhaps the grand dame of the genre. The elder spokeswoman, yet not the originator. A volleyball themed series from 1969, Attack No. 1, is from my research the first anime to show girls in the world of sport. Aim for the Ace is perhaps remembered better because of the popular and excellent film adaptation from 1979, but this entry will look at the previously released TV series of 1973. Both tell the same story with a small amount of variation to story, both were created at TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) under the direction of Osamu Dezaki (GENIUS!) and both are hallmark titles representing the growing sophistication of anime in the 1970s. The movie may have a more technically sophisticated presentation (which is ‘SO’ important in our HD obsessed world), but the TV series has a few tricks up it’s sleeve that I found endearing.

AftAtv_3Like many sports entries, Aim for the Ace is a simple coming of age story. Our heroine Hiromi Oka, though being a complete amateur (and at times a klutz), wins a spot on the coveted varsity team at Nishi High School. Nishi’s coach Jin Munakata sees much potential in the abilities of Hiromi, which in typical shojo fashion starts a soap opera of drama between the other girls on the team. Kyoko Otawa, in particular, would loss her spot on the varsity squad, which brings out a very jealous and deceptive character. And then there is the queen herself, the best player on Nishi’s squad, Reika Ryuzaki a.k.a. Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly). At first, Rieka lives up to the sempai relationship towards Hiromi by becoming a shining example to follow. Yet when Hiromi’s skills begin to improve and challenge those of Reika’s is when we see the dark side of the beautiful butterfly. Needless to say the greater length of this TV series lends itself to more story and character development compared to the movie.

AftAtv_4Visually, Aim for the Ace is a great example of manga come to life. Gorgeous watercolor like backgrounds and rougher lines push the look of being hand made. There is a simplicity within the rawness that makes it feel honest and have a lot of heart. So while this may have been par for the course for animation back in the day, it is welcome to see a cartoon not look too overly polished and sophisticated like many productions of today. Then again this was all completed under the direction of Osamu Dezaki and I have many times commented on how much I enjoy the way he approaches animation. Dezaki knows just how to make it all look so… so… so damn good!

Much like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam, Aim for the Ace was cancelled early due to low ratings (well thats what Wikipedia says!). All three series through the effort of loyal fans, reruns and eventual film adaptations would become legends. Often in our current glut of all that we have nowadays, how often does this opportunity of a second chance gets to come to a fruition. But much like many of these other shows from the 1970s, Aim for the Ace would get it’s second chance, but if you ask me, it was just right for what it had to bring to the table the first time around as well. I loved the movie, but I also loved this TV series for what it was, still is and always will be… a forerunner… a classic… a beautiful anime!

#104 : Aim for the Ace (movie)

AftA_movie1I often find that the older I get, an interest in professional sports and following a team, or such, is not something to aspire towards. Yet I respect sport and competition and my love for anime is strong, if only there were anime about sports… oh, yeah there IS! And LOTS of them too. There are several I have enjoyed and are quite good as well. And then there are entries that are legendary, hall of famers so to speak. Aim for the Ace is part of that higher echelon of sports legends. As I make my way through the original 1973 Aim for the Ace TV series I had to stop and take a break to revisit the cinema version of 1979.

AftA_movie2The influence of this movie is epic and goes well beyond the sport of tennis and sports anime itself. I am sure Studio Gainax and a young Hideaki Anno loved this story because Aim for the Ace is written all over Gainax’s first OVA release and Anno’s directorial debut Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. The name totally gives away the influence, but also the story in and of itself is a close facsimile except tennis was swapped out for a sci-fi world with mechs. Still in both stories the concept of aiming to be your best! And not just the best in your own frame of reference, but also to your fellow peers and most importantly, to a mentor who sees more potential in you than you see in yourself. It’s a type of story that never gets old because don’t we all need a reminder to pick ourselves up and try again if we stumble?

AftA_movie3Aim for the Ace’s story begins with it’s starry eyed protagonist Hiromi Oka, a new student at Nishi High School. She and her best friend Maki join the illustrious and highly noted tennis club and soon she has her eyes on two particular individuals. The first being the all-star of the girl’s varsity team, the amazingly talented, most beautiful and girl with perhaps the best hair in all of anime (seriously where do you get all that volume and curls?), Reika Ryuzaki better known as Ochoufujin (Madame Butterfly, so fitting). The second is Nishi’s new coach, Jin Munakata, a former champion, who is a tough yet fair mentor whose presence brings out a little fear and sweat. His first objective is to test the team, to see which of the hundred or so members are most fit to play on the school’s varsity squad. Hiromi is still very much a rookie and when her time comes to test her skills, she connects with one ball that impresses the coach in more ways than one. So much so that she lands a spot on the varsity team… wha, say what? Now the drama, no, more like soap opera begins!

AftA_movie4While watching the original TV series concurrently with this film, I could not help but notice the jump in animation quality and complexity. The fluidity of the film is a quantum leap from the TV series and could be down to a number of factors. First, the idea that you go from TV to movie is obvious since there is often a budget increase. The second is the six year gap between TV to the movie. This second reason is a strong point to a theory I have about how the 1970s is perhaps the most important decade in all of Japanese animation. Stories grew into more sophistication, many traditions and cliches settled themselves during this time and drawing and animation began to mature and become more complex. Such an awesome decade and Aim for the Ace is a great example of the growth of anime during this era. Ah to be born in the ‘70s… wait I was born then… 1979 no less… so that means I am the same age as this movie… interesting!

Now for the final wrap up… Aim for the Ace, is based on a great shojo manga (check!), was made at the awesome Tokyo Movie Shinsha (check!), was directed by the creative and artistic Osamu Dezaki (check!), and it still stands the test of time (double and triple check!). Aim for the Ace wins in straight sets!

#101 : Ulysses 31

U31_1Ancient Greek mythology is awesome! Don’t you agree? Such a wonderful storehouse of great storytelling and wisdom from a bygone era. We can take these myths on the exoteric level as historic documentation to the richness of Hellenic culture and esoterically as metaphors for you, the world we live in and greater spiritual envelope of our whole universe. Film and animation have had many adaptations from Jason and the Argonauts to Clash of the Titans. Japan has animated many examples as well with Saint Seiya and Arion coming to mind. But!… there is yet another example, a collaboration between the French company DiC and an old favorite here, TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsa), that actually adapts the old myths into a 31st century universe instead of borrowing elements like the other two mentioned before. Have you seen Ulysses 31?

U31_2Hey look, it’s Space Jesus! I have heard that before in regards to our hero who does have an uncanny resemblance to the Christian icon. Yet alas, this is Ulysses my friends, the guy just has really awesome hair and that beard. He is readying his crew to return to Earth aboard the spaceship (that looks like a giant eye?), the Odyssey (well named). But first, we need to celebrate the birthday of his son Telemachus as the young boy is given a robot companion, Nono. You have to have that lovable, but kind of annoying robot character. Reminds me of Oon from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors. Soon Ulysses and his companions set off when all of a sudden Telemachus becomes kidnapped. And like an awesome dad, Ulysses sets course to save his son.

U31_3Telemachus awakes to meet two Zatrians, Yumi and her older brother Numinor, to learn that they are to be sacrificed to the Cyclops to keep the priests vision intact. Far fetched, but amazing and those priests are scary too! Ulysses soon find the children and destroys the Cyclops and in typical fashion, Ulysses has to deal with that time old issue, Karma. This act angers the gods and now Ulysses has to find his own way back to Earth, via the Kingdom of Hades. That and all his companions, plus Numinor, fall into a sleep state and will awaken once he gets beyond the Kingdom of Hades. This leaves Ulysses to work with his son Telemachus, Yumi, Nono and the Odyssey’s onboard computer, Shirka. So begins the ‘Odyssey!’ Homer would be so proud.

U31_4A strength of this show is the fact that you can casually watch any episode in any order, except episodes one and 26 as these are the bookends for the series. Hooray this show has a solid openner and a satisfying closing episode! …No loose ends here… Take Ulysses 31 in any order you like, kind of like the old Choose Your Own Adventure book series. If you are aware of many of the tales of Ancient Greek myth you will be pleased to see the variety that have been chosen. We see interpretations of Oedipus’ trial with the Sphynix, the punishment of Sisyphus, Thesseus and the Minotaur, the enchantment of Circe and many more. The most surprising episode has our heroes going back to Ancient Greece itself where they meet their legendary counterparts.

In case you are a fan of The Mysterious Cities of Gold, both dubs feature the same cast. I have never seen the original Japanese dub, but if you have give me an update; same with the French dub as well. The show looks very much the era it was made, 1981. You might say it looks very Star Wars, but I want to think it looks more like the era’s Flash Gordon since this had a European influence, though it is not campy. Sci-fi had a certain flavor from the late 70s/early 80s that cannot be recreated. The technology may not have been up to far of today and the costuming at times can be a little goofy. Yet you get a lot of heart, which is what makes the era’s sci-fi and mecha so desirable (at least for me). Ulysses 31 is a solid show where heart and soul reigns supreme. May your journey to find the Kingdom of Hades be immortal and full of discovery.

#94 : Rainbow Brite

RB_1Magical girls are not mutually exclusive to Japan alone. After all the influence of the original magical girl Sally the Witch was based off of the character Samantha Stevens from the popular 1960s TV show Bewitched. But what if the west could create a property that pays homage to Japan’s homage to something that was in the west previously? Or, is it more like the Hallmark Card company gave a toy concept to the production company DiC and they thought, hey we can make her a magical girl? It doesn’t matter how it all happened, the only thing that matters is that it’s time to talk about a legend among legends. Miss Rainbow Brite herself… Hip Hip Hooray!

RB_2Before I begin I will be the first to say that Rainbow Brite is not officially an anime, but she belongs here at CAM. First she was created during the 1980s (1983 for the toys and 1984 for the first animated installment). Two, Rainbow Brite, at least according to Wikipedia, was broadcast in Japan as well as the west. Three, the preproduction was all American and French via DiC, but the heavy lifting, being the drawings and animation, was completely Japanese in origin via TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsa). And not just TMS the company, but one of their best directors (and one of my all time favorites), Osamu Dezaki, worked on the show. Though this show looks nothing like Dezaki’s signature style. And four… number four… I love Rainbow Brite and since I am the boss here, the verdict stands. After all I need some more color and happiness around here. …and more 80s cartoons as well for nostalgia and to prove that my generation had awesome entertainment. 🙂

RB_3The premise is very simple… a little girl named Wisp is cast into a world of darkness and  meets up with various friends (the Color Kids and Sprites), a “magnificent horse, the glory of the galaxy” (Starlight’s got some confidence) and the powerful color belt to spread joy, happiness and color all over Rainbowland and our world as well. Together they hold back the naughtiness of the ill-behaved Murky and his second in command Lurky (HEY MURKY!!) by halting their plans of bringing gloom and darkness into the world. Can’t we all just get along here? This is yet another simple story of duality where our hero takes on an antagonist and triumphs in the end. Except we have it all in nice full color; I mean you would expect nothing less from a show titled Rainbow Brite? I think so. That and being a product of the 1980s, a colorful decade in more ways than one, expect nothing less.

RB_4So here is a fun exercise, in what ways does western Rainbow Brite differ to other magical girls of Japanese origin? Perhaps the biggest and most obvious, is the fact that Rainbow herself does not transform from a mundane identity. She is all who she is and lives in the wonders of Rainbowland and not in our world as some average middle, or high school girl. Therefore, she does not have the typical magic wand which aids in the transformation process. Rainbow has her fingers, loads of star sprinkles and the previously mentioned color belt as tools for her magic. As a character Rainbow is almost a mediatory between the later (1990s) hero type of magical girl, like Sailor Moon, and the contemporary (1980s) idol good girls of Creamy Mami and Minky Momo. What of these differences in the grand scheme of things? I say they are welcome!

Now here is a question… why only 13 episodes of content? I believe the initial episodes were more geared for direct to video while the later filled out a run for Saturday morning broadcast. Still, Rainbow Brite had possibilites here. Yet why cry over what did not happen and celebrate what did come to fruition instead. After all, Rainbow wants us all to have a great day. Actually, that should be more like… A GREAT DAY!