#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!

#92 : Sherlock Hound

SH_1“I say Watson. There is even an anime adaptation of me… and I am portrayed as a dog? Mmm, interesting.” And not only that Holmes, or Hound, but you had the blessing of the magic touch from one of Japan’s top directors. Hayao Miyazaki, working with studio TMS, was on the brink of fame and fortune with the release of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind in 1984, a year that also featured a collaborative television show with the Italian broadcast and production company RAI. Sherlock Hound would be the fruit of this collaboration.

SH_2Italian and Japanese design and sensibilities reminds me of, and I am sorry if you are not into cars, but I think of that beautiful machine, the Honda/Acura NSX. It’s graceful, elegant and high quality. This is an example of the complete best of two different cultures filtered through a project. Sherlock Hound is perhaps one of the finest looking television anime of the 1980s. Rich in fluid motion, witty humor, crisp details and beautiful colors. There is no mistaking that this was produced at TMS; such a high mark portfolio piece. And while Miyazaki is credited heavily for this show, it must be known that he was only around for the first six or so episodes before licensing issues came to the surface. Miyazaki would leave TMS to continue work on first the manga of Nausicaa, which led to the film production. Still, the influence of the master was still ever present once the show got back on track a couple years later.

SH_3Sherlock Hound is a very loose adaptation of the crime fighting detective who always seems to be one thought ahead with every clue he finds. “Hello?” Along with Dr. Watson and occasionally the bumbly Inspector Lestrade, Hound (or, just Holmes in the original Japanese dialogue) has to foil the exploits of his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty. Across the 26 episodes I am reminded of another franchise very familiar to TMS. I think of Lupin III, yet it is almost the inverse of Sherlock Hound. Instead of cheering on the thief and laughing at the authorities, you laugh at the thief and the authorities (Scotland Yard and Lestrade) and cheer on the third party who seems to be more effective than the officials that are in charge. Now that makes me think of Batman as Gotham City’s police squad may be good at handing out parking tickets but leave the real work for the caped crusader. Goes to show that in order to do it right, you have to find an alternative source. Off to Baker Street we go to solve our problems.

SH_4Nostalgia, at least for me, is strong with Sherlock Hound. The glory years of the mid to late 80s Saturday morning cartoon boom, which also includes the independent syndication market that had shows on everyday after school during the week, are very much in harmony with this show. Yet I didn’t see Sherlock Hound during my youth and yet it could have fit in quite well. In particular are the shows that Disney cranked out, you know Duck Tales, Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers et al since you have the anthropomorphic animal characters in fun adventure situations. And then there was the British cartoon of Danger Mouse, which is similar to Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond, with dry humor so beloved in the British Isles. In all honesty, they don’t hold a candle to Sherlock HoundSherlock Hound holds to an even higher standard as mentioned above that draws me as a ‘mature’ adult. And yet, it is brilliant for an audience of any age; it’s almost perfect? Truly, lightning captured in a bottle.

Sherlock Hound is an easy recommendation and invites you in from a number of possible routes. Do you like Sherlock Holmes? Do you enjoy Hayao Miyazaki’s work and style? Are you looking for a great anime to watch with the whole family? Are you an old school otaku? Do you like great animated action that’s fun? If you answer yes to any of these, I would consider you a candidate for this show. Try or rewatch Sherlock Hound for the first or 101st time because this round is on me 🙂

#91 : Cat’s Eye

There should be honor among thieves. After all, and I am quoting from another anime, “It isn’t stolen, merely borrowed without the benefit of paperwork” (GoShogun: The Time Étranger). Some thieves acquire for greed, others for survival and others for getting back what is rightfully their own property. As this particular story goes, we have three sisters in Japan with a mission to collect artwork that was created by their estranged father. Always one step ahead of the cops and another step ahead of our hearts, lets meet the Kisugi sisters, better known as Cat’s Eye.

CE_1Mix three parts Lupin III, one part Dirty Pair, one part Charlie’s Angels and a dash of Shonen JumpShonen Jump? For real? Indeed, one of the few examples of SJ anime with female lead characters I can think of. Cat’s Eye was created by the same dude, Tsukasa Hojo, that did City Hunter (also SJ); both shows look similar in approach. Earlier it sounded like I was making some fancy schmancy coffee a lot of you folks drink from Starbucks. Funny to throw in that reference because the Cat’s Eye girls own a coffee shop… named Cat’s Eye. Way to state the obvious ladies without getting caught; you three get bonus points from me. What a combination, these girls are skilled with stealth, athletic ability and can make a mean cup of joe (helps out if you have to pull an all nighter?).

CE_2Enough of these intros, we need to meet the Kisugi sisters. Let’s start with kid sister Ai, she is the tech geek and yet still in high school. Then there is older sister Rui with long curly hair, beauty mark and red lipstick (she may be my favorite). Finally, we have middle sister and our main protagonist, Hitomi who does a majority of the  thievery. Often times she herself is considered Cat’s Eye, kind of like Ken the Eagle in Gatchaman. Now for a great twist in regards to who Hitomi’s boyfriend is. He is Toshio ‘Toshi’ Utsumi and he works across the street from the Cat’s Eye coffee shop and he is a cop and his main assignment is the capture of Cat’s Eye. The poor guy must not be very bright knowing his beloved is also his biggest nemesis.

CE_3As stated before, our girls only steal artwork that belongs in the collection of their artist father, Michael Heinz. Wait I thought Cat’s Eye were the Kisugi sisters and this guy’s last name is Heinz? Perhaps its a nickname or the girls took their mother’s maiden name? At any rate, these girls are honest and always leave a calling card stating when and where they will strike next. These are usually business card sized and they are delivered ninja style like shurikens, very bold. Speaking of ninja skills I often thought these girls honored that tradition with their abilities of stealth and agility. Except this was all set in the 1980s, so they have to wear tight leotards. The era of aerobics left influence in both the girl’s costumes and both ending credit sequences. Flashdance anyone?

CE_4How odd that both Cat’s Eye and Lupin III were made at TMS (awesome studio). Talk about a great crossover possibility… that never happened. Also odd is how this show leads you on with the plot. Do we ever find the whereabouts of Michael Heinz? Spoiler, but no. At the end of the first season it seemed that the next half of the show would focus on this plot point and it did… vaguely. Almost as if it was just filler material. Hmm… Shonen Jump adaptations and filler episodes, yea like that never happens? Needless to say I was disappointed once I got to the end, but I had a good time getting there anyway. Plus, Toshi never catches Hitomi in the act. And while it is true that a few episodes flirted with the possibility of discovering the truth, Cat’s Eye ends it all in a stalemate. Maybe I am being too hard on this show?

A final word of warning if you have any of Michael Heinz’s artwork! Be prepared if one of Cat’s Eye’s calling cards appears because these girls always get the goods. Cat’s Eye the group may steal art, but Cat’s Eye the show stole my heart. An ode to my favorite holiday gift from 2017, good times! Why didn’t I see this show sooner?

#83 : The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers

Space western… isn’t that kind of oxymoronic. But if steampunk works, then space westerns do as well. Outlaws, cowboys, the wild frontier and spaceships with warp drives are a killer combination. The time has come to highlight some animated shows that are one foot in Japan and the other in the west. I have one of my favorites of that bygone era that competed with Filmation’s Bravestarr and Saber Ryder and the Star Sheriffs (an adaptation of Star Musketeer Bismarck) for the definition of an 80s cartoon space western. That show is The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers.

GR_1Though not an anime outright since this series was conceptualized and sold to the west, it can be what I call an example of a half-anime or perhaps a second cousin once removed. Galaxy Rangers was a collaboration with the awesome Tokyo Movie Shinsa (TMS) studio via American producer Robert Mandell. Mandell’s vision was to create a western infused space opera that appealed to a more mature audience, mix it with the elements of anime he liked while working in Japan and do it all without an already existing merchandise license. Sounds par for the course today, but in 1986 this was a new frontier. The economy of that time allowed the west to use Japan’s studios for production often in animation, but collaborations were rare. This was the ‘Wild West’ so to speak (how fitting).

GR_2I could mention much about the plot of Galaxy Rangers, but I should introduce our quartet of heroes and how they fit into the show. First we have the leader, Zachary Foxx, the straight man and also the father and husband who has a mission to rescue his family back from the Crown Empire. Shane Gooseman, a former Supertrooper (kind of like the X-Men or Cyborg 009), is the bad-boy of the group. Niko, the token pretty girl, has brilliant intuition, knowledge of archeology and gorgeous hair. And finally ‘Doc’ Walter Hartford, the essential computer geek. All four work as a collective unit, or separately, on various jobs requiring their help. So kind of like a sentai squad like Gatchaman crossed with the Dirty Pair.

GR_3Now… Galaxy Rangers, what makes you so special? How do you rock our universe? How about the music for a start! We have no synth pop or cheesy songs on this soundtrack. We get arena hair-band hard rock. WHOA! Last time I jammed this hard was Transformers: The Movie. And what about influences from Japan? The character designs and colors are closer to ‘anime’ of the time. In fact Shane Gooseman resembles M.D. Geist from my eye, though he takes after a blonde Clint Eastwood to be honest. Zachary Foxx has an arm that acts like a laser blaster, very similar to a space pirate named Cobra. Plus, how many cartoons featured the late TV and Broadway actor Jerry Orbach? OK, on research I found he was also in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as well, but to me he will always be Zachary Foxx. Finally I have to give a nod to Speed Racer: Peter Fernandez worked on production and Corinne Orr played the Queen of the Crown.

GR_4Now being that I was a bright eyed and bushy tailed seven year old in 1986, I bet you thought I saw this show everyday after school. Well… I had no knowledge of this show back then. Very true indeed as my watch list that year was Transformers, Silverhawks, Robotech and at times Jem. It wasn’t until about 2011/12 and finding a review of the DVD sets that an itch began to arise that needed a scratch. How did I not know about this show at the time? Again I remind myself that as a kid cowboys and westerns were not my cup of tea, plus I never heard any classmates talk about it. If you remember, I mentioned that this show began without any merchandising. So their was no alternative way to get your interest to see this show. But like anything, time will cross the paths of destiny in whatever schedule is set before it.

While most 65 episode 80s shows of my youth can often be stained with nostalgia perfection, upon viewing with more mature eyes apparent flaws are often present. If you isolate the best 26 or so episodes of Galaxy Rangers when the show was running on all cylinders, you have a solid production; a fine hybrid. Rangers are Forever!

#64 : Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy

L3_Fuma_1This release could be the spiritual successor to a former release of Lupin III, The Castle of Cagliostro. Oh, so does that mean that this was directed by Hayao Miyazaki? No, but the head supervisor, Yasuo Otsuka, was around with Lupin since the beginning and he has worked with Miyazaki and company several times in the past. Returning to a classic green jacket as opposed to the early 80s pink jacket, Lupin returned in 1987 onto the direct to video OVA market with Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy, or Lupin III: The Plot of the Fuma Clan.

L3_Fuma_2On the other hand, The Fuma Conspiracy can be considered… well… a supposed black sheep in the long going adventures of our favorite jacket wearing, sideburn clad thief. Not so for me, or maybe other fans, but from what I have heard from so-called experts say Japan often looks at this one with an odd face. Why? Well that classic voice cast that had been with the characters since the beginning was replaced. Perhaps for budget reasons, but the choices of Toshio Furukawa (Lupin), Banjou Ginga (Gigen), Mami Koyama (Fujiko) and Kaneto Shiozawa (Goemon). I love all four of them as actors from other productions, I mean come on! But, this is like the George Lazenby cast placement when everyone expects Sean Connery (James Bond reference in case that went over your head) and b.t.w. I love the film George was in (any fans of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?).

L3_Fuma_3Also different is how this OVA starts. We see our cast at a wedding… OK, so the quartet are looking to steal something here? Maybe, but this is Goemon’s wedding. Wait! Goemon, in a romantic relationship? I thought he only followed the way of the samurai and his partner was his sword. Yeah, well… things change. Now… there is this vase that belongs to the family Goemon is marrying into and Lupin and Fujiko have interest in grabbing it. Not so much for the vase itself, but for the hidden secret to a great treasure. Now this is sounding like a Lupin caper. But don’t forget, we have another party interested in this vase and the treasure that I have not mentioned yet. And can you guess who they are? Hint… read the title again. Yup, Lupin has to go up against the Fuma clan and… and… don’t forget Inspector Zenigata is here as well.

L3_Fuma_4Back to the idea of this production being a spiritual successor to the classic The Castle of Cagliostro. As I mentioned earlier ‘oldman’ Yasuo Otsuka oversaw production at Tokyo Movie Shinsa and the green jacket was re-instated. So what else shares commonality with the 1979 Miyazaki film? Well, remember that yellow Fiat 500 with the crazy supercharger from Cagliostro? It’s back and welcomed; indeed. And it is an even larger car chase than before. Another shared Cagliostro trait is the fact that this is more of a family friendly outing for our quartet. The red and pink jacket entries from the late 70s and early 80s brought Lupin closer to how he is in the manga. Although the original green jacket series from 1971 began as a very hard edge adaptation until edits were brought into play. Ironic?

When watching the commentary on the DVD that I own, I heard references to how The Fuma Conspiracy looks more similar to western styled shows of the area. Though I agree to a point, the movement, color and environment does slightly favor something from Tiny Toon Adventures. And this is appropriate as back in the day Japanese studios did a lot of the grunt work for animation made for the western market, particularly the U.S. And for Tokyo Movie Shinsa, the studio who has worked on all the classic Lupin titles, also did the animation for… Tiny Toon Adventures. Could have been the exact same staff?

For one of the longest running franchises in Japanese animation, Lupin III has been told and retold in a number of formats. Lupin III: The Fuma Conspiracy represented Lupin’s first foray into the new boom of the OVA market in the mid-1980s. Though the home video market has changed, Lupin has not. This is yet another solid green jacket adventure for Lupin III… do you see this large smile on my face?

#59 : The Professional: Golgo 13

Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13, you sir are one tough motherf$@%&#.

G13_1To preface the premise of Golgo 13, think James Bond, more like Daniel Craig or Timothy Dalton’s portrayals, but even more sinister. Also think of Lupin III, but a Lupin who has no sense of humor. Golgo 13 is the definition of a hired hitman, or perhaps maybe a programmed machine. He is more humane than say M.D. Geist (I still don’t get that dude, but I have written about that already), but Golgo 13 is still a very stoic and pragmatic individual. His life is a series of contract hits to frag spliced between getting into bed with one glamorous woman after another. To some The Professional: Golgo 13 may be the ultimate action flick, but this film displays other aspects that make it a visually artistic classic.

G13_2One name makes me think of this movie and it’s not the original creator, Takao Saito. The man I am thinking of is in my opinion one of the greatest directors from Japan, one of studio Tokyo Movie Shinsa’s (TMS) best, the one and only, Osamu Dezaki. His style of rough thick lines, triples takes, dramatic lighting and pastel still shots add a level of film noir, style and sex appeal that transforms the story of a dry hitman into perhaps the best pulp noir comic come to life I have seen to date. It looks un-mistakingly hand made, with the exception of the early CG footage in the titles and the goofy helicopter sequence (why did they not just hand draw it?). In my honest opinion it may be the best adaptation of Dezaki’s visual style. Sex and violence never looks so… stylish?

G13_3The plot meanders around various segments, but there is a singular tie that holds everything together. Tycoon Leonard Dawson on the day of his retirement is about to hand over his empire to his beloved son Robert until… until young Robert is murdered in cold blood. Enter the melodrama. Leonard Dawson throughout the film in a psychotic rage has only one passion and that is to get the man who took away his son. And guess who shot Robert? None other than Golgo 13 himself. So why would Golgo 13 shoot young Robert? Because that was his job, his contract to fulfill and I will not reveal who it was who hired Golgo 13, but it definitely makes the movie a very interesting experience. One great plot twist that makes the ending completely difference than what you expected.

G13_4I want to come back to the element of style for this movie. Though it was produced in 1983 and the original manga began in the late 1960s, this movie to me feels very 1970s. Give me the wood grain finish on anything, or everything in any scene’s room. Show me those funky clothes, the nasty smell of Golgo 13’s choice of cigarettes (Parliaments no less), the Farrah Fawcett styled hair from character designer Akio Sugino (I swear all his women could have been one the cover of Cosmopolitan back in the day) and the showcase of classic cars.

Another way I can look at this movie is to compare it to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. While both films are wild rides and have a similar look, at least from my eye, I find The Professional: Golgo 13 to be less romanticized or idealized, maybe even fun. Both films deal with the story of a hitman, but in typical style from Japan, Golgo 13 is not Hollywood-like and thank goodness for that. I often wonder when this film originally was produced if it could have been created for the Western market as a possible export. This is one of the few films I can show my dad, who is not into anime at all. But, he likes mob and tough guy movies and Golgo 13 hits that mark very well.

The Professional: Golgo 13 may not be everyones cup of tea in regards for story, but I have to highly recommend watching this film at least once to see the style of Dezaki’s work in action. The Space Adventure Cobra movie is another possibility, but it does not hold a candle to Golgo 13 in terms of mood and visual story telling. Lastly, I hope you are never on his hit list and just in case if you are… “I pray for you. Pray for you (enter the whaling guitars).”