#134 : The World of Hans Christian Andersen

WoHCA_1So… can we consider The World of Hans Christian Andersen a biographical film? Perhaps not, but from a fantastical perspective, let’s just say it is. Apparently a young Hans Christian Andersen is a young working class boy whose father is a cobbler, a shoemaker. Hans has a love of storytelling and he has a distant dream of being part of the local theater, a place he likes to frequent from the outskirts. What’s a poor boy to do with a dream with no outlet? Have a visit from that good old guy, the sandman, Uncle Oley. Sure sounds like an odd film? Maybe even silly and cliché? It is, but The World of Hans Christian Andersen is enchanting in it’s own way.

WoHCA_2While this film may not be historically, or factually accurate (most films rarely are, even if they are based on a ‘true’ story), it is without question an inventive use of play and imagination. Could Hans Christian Andersen in his spare time have concocted many of his famous literary works in the prime years of his youth. Maybe? Perhaps? Or maybe not, but what can be true about any author is that one often pulls from direct experience. Many of his known classics like The Red Shoes, Thumbelina (a few anime adaptations are available), The Little Match Girl and The Little Mermaid (giving some love to the 1975 Toei version) amongst others all make some sort of an appearance in the film either as being part of the plot, or having a minor cameo. The World of Hans Christian Andersen is more of a general tribute to the work of Andersen than anything else.

WoHCA_3A product of Toei animation from 1968, The World of Hans Christian Andersen can be seen as an example of Toei’s de rigueur style. Simple, easy to digest and not confrontational. Also, perhaps a little on the cheaper end of the budget scale compared to my next example. In contrast, Isao Takahata’s directorial debut Horus: Prince of the Sun, is a complicated film, darker in tone and progressive in terms of content and ideology. Plus, Horus looks expensive and for its time, a bar raising standard for the future of animation in Japan. The established old guard vs. the rising younger generation. Even with all that was just said, don’t think that The World of Hans Christian Andersen is by any means inferior, it’s just an example of a different approach. Still I can’t deny that it looks rather cheap and goofy, but it still has it’s own way of being… appealing and cute.

WoHCA_4One thing does make me wonder about The World of Hans Christian Andersen… this movie reminds me so much of the so-called holiday cartoon classics (in terms of style mainly) we see here in the west that I often wonder was this perhaps made for the west from the start? From general research, it seems to come back time and again that this hypothesis does not hold up. Still? … There are far more important battles to find instead of worrying about cartoons. Just watch and enjoy them for what they are. The World of Hans Christian Andersen is one of those titles that came my way via an interesting source. Sometimes you find anime on bizarre dollar bin/dollar store shelves and wonder is this stuff truly anime? Then with a little research you find that this is a title that has long since been forgotten. Forgotten until you find it, watch it yourself and then write about it so others know that a movie like this does actually exist.

The wondrous world from the vantage point of youth, or even the innocence of childlike simplicity in one’s supposed adulthood is important to balance and retain in all of our lives. Such knowing that true riches are internal and are within the realms of our imagination. From that fertile ground of a garden known as the mind, the conscious and subconscious fuse together, you can create anything and I mean anything as boundaries do not exist. Such creations can include stories and the art of storytelling itself. This is the world and imagination of The World of Hans Christian Andersen.

#122 : Swan Lake

SW_1I call to court the fact that Disney has too much of a stranglehold on the so called ‘Princess’ genre. Are there any princesses left that don’t belong to Disney? … any hands in the audience? … Oh, Miss Odette from Swan Lake, you are not part of the Disney pantheon, though Barbie has sure used your story and there is that Swan Princess movie too, but we won’t count these for the moment. Many tales of princesses, eh… lets say fairy tales, have been brought to life from the great artists of Japan, many of which came to life in the 1970s and 80s. Swan Lake is one of the many and in 1981 Toei’s adaptation would see a release in theaters.

SW_2Certain anime titles are with us since our beginnings. Swan Lake is one of the many titles that during my childhood in the 1980s became the genesis point for my love for Japanese animation. With TV series such as Voltron and Robotech and Toei’s Little Mermaid on VHS, Swan Lake would make its way into my consciousness via a chance TV broadcast on a Sunday afternoon. As a younger version of myself I recognized the character designs to be similar to many of the titles listed above and without the knowledge of what or where Swan Lake came from, I enjoyed it. Such was the era before the internet and the word anime came into our lexicon… you loved a cartoon because it resonated with you and that was all that we went on back in the day.

SW_3Based on the ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, expect to see fine visuals mixed with the classic and powerful, yet refined music of Tchaikovsky. Swan Lake is a love story between two star crossed lovers, a handsome prince and a captive princess who has been enchanted to become a swan by day and a girl by night in the clutches of an evil sorcerer. …and… don’t forget the love story between a pairing of two squirrels as well. And yes those two little ones do play a part into the story beyond just being cute animal characters. This is classic romanticism, yet kind of old hat as it is about a guy rescuing a girl in captive. It’s a time and tested formula, yet it is nice to see the roles reversed. That being said I have nothing against the formula this time round as this story can also hold more esoteric meaning beyond the exoteric surface. Fairy tales and myths are filled with esoteric concepts and add a BIG reason for me to revisit these classic stories again for another frame of reference.

SW_4And what of a supposed ‘Black Swan’? Let’s throw a monkey wrench into this entry. Odette our heroine is so innocent, dressed in white, passive, blonde hair… she is the essence of clarity and purity as a symbolic figure. Hence why Rothbart, the sorcerer, finds her so attractive as she is the total opposite to his dark ways and look. A true essence of polarity. AND… he is one dirty old man for wanting a young trophy wife as a status symbol. Ecchi! A very similar dynamic to Vampire Hunter D with Count Magnus Lee and young Doris. But what of this ‘Black Swan’ mentioned earlier? Rothbart has a daughter at about the same age as Odette, Odile. She may be my favorite character as she is the ‘bad’ girl. Well not bad, just independent, dark and gothic and a little conniving. Her daddy can have Odette, though Odile thinks its odd, but that leaves her to be with that stud of a Prince. It must be his haircut that makes him so popular? Anime and romance… it’s never simple.

True unconditional love and magic under the moonlight mixed with heroic virtue and a classic soundtrack. You know you want to watch? … Swan Lake you were with me since my salad days of youth and you still hold a place in my collection and my present. If Disney ever makes claim to do a version of Swan Lake they are welcome, but I will more than likely stay with my old friend out of respect.

#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.

#93 : Galaxy Express 999 (movie)

If one must set out for a voyage to the stars, you must do it with an element of style. An ordinary spaceship will work for many, but come on now… let’s push the boundaries of imagination. What about traveling through space in a train? Hmm?… I like it… all wood grained and classic black iron, now that is classy! As well, a voyage to the stars should be something personal, a journey to not just discover what is out there, but also what is within yourself. Galaxy Express 999 is such a journey that once you ride this train line, you will never be the same.

GE999_movie1Here is an idea… let’s say you want to honor your goal to achieve immortality by adopting a mechanical body and the only way to do that would be to board a train to the stars that will take you to this fated destination. Only problem is that this train ticket is quiet expensive and sought after. Plus, you also wish to avenge your mother’s wrongful murder since you have so much spare time with all this other stuff going on. Are you in consensus with our hero Tetsuro Hoshino for a ride on the Galaxy Express 999? Great… we have a ticket for you, except you have to have the classiest lady in all of anime join you in your journey.

GE999_movie2Leiji Matsumoto’s vision of science fiction is beyond brilliant. What sets him apart is his use of tenderness and emotion. I always shed some kind of a tear due to the enduring qualities and almost simplicity of Galaxy Express 999. That almost motherly womb of nurturing I get from this movie is summed up in that lady I mentioned earlier, Maetel. Her name is derivative of mother, matter, maternal, Mary, or mare (sea/waters) at least that is my hypothesis. Beyond being a near protective saint, she has the longest blond hair I have yet to see and dresses in a Russian styled black fur coat and hat. So classy! If the story tells the meat of the experience, Maetel represents the symbolic image of this story. I hate to see her as a mascot, more like an ascended master in the form of an anime heroine.

GE999_movie3The essence, or perhaps theme of Galaxy Express 999, is beyond the awesome space operatic elements. Often we are watching a story set in the future, but the true teachings are of the present moment. Life is something to be cherished and in two ways particularly. One, the fact that we are mortal and the time that we have is precious and our presence in this very moment is precious. And two, love yourself for who you are and what you believe in; your highest dreams and aspiration. Love yourself, love the environment and welcome all opportunities, you never know who you may meet on your journey when you just go with the flow. Just ask our hero Tetsuro.

GE999_movie4Galaxy Express 999’s movie adaptation is more than just a basic re-telling of the epic TV series. True we follow Tetsuro Hoshino’s path of maturity, which is sped up and abbreviated due the compression of the mammoth length of the manga/TV series original, yet we also have the inclusion of Matsumoto’s other great sci-fi epic which ran concurrent with Galaxy Express 999. That being of course Space Pirate Captain Harlock. This movie could be the ultimate expression of the constant retelling and reimagining of all that is the Leijiverse. And not just Captain Harlock the character, crew and mythology, but also that TV series’ director, Rintaro. Always a visual feast, so typical of Rintaro, this may be his most coherent film where the story does not get lost within the presentation of powerful imagery.

Stories of the hero’s journey number in the infinite and often times we are telling the same over yet again with a slightly different veneer. The origins of Galaxy Express 999 may borrow elements of Night on the Galactic Railroad and Star Wars (or perhaps Yamato?), but in the end it is something far different. A classic among classics, a step above the rest, Galaxy Express 999 may be one of the best coming of age stories ever created. Thank you Leiji Matsumoto and Rintaro for this great gift.

#77 : Toward the Terra

I love science fiction, can’t help it because a). it’s in my DNA to be into the future and far out subject matter and b). I was born into a generation where there was a flood of it. Right place at the right time indeed. In my early days of searching for more of the grandiose tales of the future and outer space I would come across a tale of social dissatisfaction, totalitarian government, social order and the rise of the individual and evolutionary diversity that can’t be ignored. This was the pride of 1980, the promise of a decade to come, the beautiful and austere Toward the Terra.

TtT_1Often we think of science fiction as a grandiose showing of space battles and action, but the real focus of great science fiction is in the commentary of the social condition of the now. These are the great myths and stories of our contemporary age told to criticize actions that need to be addressed right now. It is about our feelings, our ideas, our hopes, our dreams and our fears. The Toei produced film adaptation of Keiko Takemiya’s manga, To Terra, is one of my favorite tales of social critique. Kind of like The Matrix meets Star Wars mixed with the mood and the finding of one’s humanity of Blade Runner. Why do I watch anime, cartoons, or whatever you want to call this stuff? Toward the Terra is one of my best answers.

TtT_2In a society where children are born of test tubes and raised by foster parents until the age of awakening, 14 years, there are those who don’t fit into the criteria. Jomy Marcus Shin is one of these children. He acts impulsively, has odd nightmares and a strong sense of individuality. The government has their eyes on him, because he may be one of the Mu, an advanced form of humanity with esper powers that is a threat to the conformity of the current status quo. The system must hold it’s population in check to keep humanity from making the mistakes of the past that destroyed the great planet of Terra, Earth. Individuality is the enemy, being special is the enemy, being different is the enemy, being who ‘YOU’ really are is the enemy.

TtT_3Along with Jomy are two other important characters, the first being the leader of the Mu, Soldier Blue, who is looking for his successor. Despite his youthful appearance he knows his advanced age is creeping up on him. And the second is the mysterious Keith Anyan, one of the system’s elite who was literally, born and prepped for his position in life. Keith much like Roy Batty in Blade Runner has to come to terms with his existence and what is right not for the system, or government, but for the greater of the human race. These are not our only characters, an understudy of Jomy named Tony will also appear later in the story that spans over the lifetime of this generation. Much like a Legend of the Galactic Heroes kind of epic with all the characters and drama, but without all the military tactics.

TtT_4As I have said earlier this may be a tale of the future, but this is a tale of the now be it 1980, or 2017 (the writing of this blog). How much do we lose as we grow up? How much of yourself is really you? Are you really honest with who you really are? Are you happy, I mean really happy? These are questions asked in the film, but are also questions we ask ourselves not in some far of distant galaxy far, far away. Seriously, we all have asked these questions. And why can’t more science fiction follow this format? This was what made sci-fi oh so awesome back in the days of yore, but alas they are a little more rare in these days… or are they?

For those of you who are more into the modern style of contemporary anime, you are in luck as there is another adaptation, a TV series, of Toward the Terra that was released in 2007. The manga is available as well, but of the three options I prefer the film that I have been writing about. We all have a choice and I respect your decision, but this movie moved me the most, made me feel the most and as of recent upon re-watching this movie, I connected on yet another level. I can’t explain it in words, I only hope you enjoy this wonderful story as well.

#17 : Armored Fleet Diarugger XV

There are times in one’s life that things just seem to come full circle. There are moments where you feel you have heard, or experienced part of the story and you have to know more, or know it all. One must experience the full totality of a tale when one is ready to understand it… or in this case, when an anime gets released on DVD. I have had a few of these moments in regards to adapted shows of my youth and this is one of them. Let’s look at Armored Fleet Diarugger XV.

dairugger_1Voltron was a cornerstone of my youth and to my early experiences with animation from Japan. Voltron was hugely popular and had it’s fifteen minutes of exposure during the mid 1980s. I was along for the ride as I was at the right age bracket to get swept up. We all loved the five heroes in the robot lions battling it out against the likes of the bad guys of Planet Doom (I wonder if anyone is nice from there?). But, Voltron was originally setup to be a trilogy, showcasing three unique super robot shows from Toei. In reality we ended up with the adaptation of Beast King GoLion, an original follow up to GoLion and the odd step child, the adaptation of Armored Fleet Diarugger XV.

dairugger_2I have always liked the Vehicle series, Diarugger’s western treatment, and by no means am I saying it is better than the Lions, it was just… different. Something about it spoke to me. A harder edged space opera, mixed with a little political intrique. No matter what the adaptation tried to either cover up or present, I had a feeling that something more was going on in the background. And by the time I came across the officially released DVDs (a little advice: GET a release when it feels like the time right to avoid the over priced markup when they go out of print) that we had here in the U.S. I had a mission and it was simple. That mission was to see what actually this show was really telling. And after the first couple episodes, I knew my hunch was correct.

Dairugger_3.jpgGone is the knowledge that the crew of the Rugger Guard knew of the Galveston (Drule) Empire ahead of time. Gone is the fact that every episode seemed to be on a different planet when often it looked like they were at a location for a couple episodes. Gone are the existence of the ‘hospital planet’ or ‘escape pods’. (because after all no body really dies, right?) And yes ‘Chip’ is really not ‘Pidge’s’ brother (different show and timeline). What we do have is a 52 episode journey that slowly unfolds, builds and grows where the emphasis from my eye, is more on the overarching story than individual characters. And yes, there are many characters (I will discuss this in the next paragraph). It’s kind of like the original Star Trek updated to the 1980s with a heavier plotline and a big robot added for good measure (got to sell those toys after all, and what a toy it was). My personal favorite is episode 13 The Enemy Within the Mind, an episode with a lot of suspense and where no laser blast, sword swing or punch is thrown. Different? I though so.

I know some people give flack to the show for having the fifteen manned mech. “It’s too many characters… ” Or is it? Macross and the Gundams have larger casts. Or how about Legend of Galactic Heroes? Now there is large cast. So the team that forms the big bot is fifteen strong, who cares. True we don’t get to know all of them intimately, but still it works. After all the it breaks the mold of the usual one, two, three or five manned teams. I give kudos for being different. The origin for fifteen lays in the name Diarugger, the rugger part. A rugby team comprises of suprise, fifteen people. And later in the show we see an actual game of rugby. How about them apples?

dairugger_4So the circle has now been complete and the smile on my face is large indeed. Diarugger is without question a dark horse entry into the ginormous field of mecha shows made during it’s era. The ending is one of the most satisfying endings I have ever seen as I felt true closure unlike the tie a bow on it Voltron version (I still love you Voltron, but seriously I need a solid ending). A true diamond in the rough that has always been under our noses since the days of innocent childhood. To badly quote a John Lennon lyric… “All I am saying, is give Diarugger a chance.”

#14 : The Little Mermaid

This movie has been with me for a long, long time. Believe it or not, this was one of my foundation anime that began everything that has led me to this point. To be honest at the time of this writing, I am dealing with a lot of unresolved issues throughout my life and I need something to help me give a good cry. Forget Grave of Fireflies, if I have a bad day and require to curl up in bed with a warm blanket and a lot of homemade popcorn and need some ‘comfort food’ I pull The Little Mermaid. True I can go with Windaria, or Farewell Space Battleship Yamato, but to be honest… the nostalgia runs very deep and when you have a feeling of being wounded, nostalgia feels beautiful.

lm1Lots of love always goes to Disney’s version. I remember when it was brand new in the theaters and eventually home video, rocking the VCR. Ariel defined a generation as Disney came back strong after years of releasing films that did not attach significantly with audiences. And that’s because films need to make a lot of money to be successful? In any case my sister was all over the Disney release. And I though now wait a minute, didn’t we see this years earlier? And it looked a lot better (anime art style bias on my part). That and Ariel gets to, in the end, win? WIN! Life happily ever after? Uh, Disney, did you read the source material at all? Did Hans Christian Andersen ever write a happy story? I am sure he did, but every one I have read sure goes with the standard I know well.

LM2.jpgI often think about how much trauma I was subjected to as a child from entertainment. Trauma may not be the right word, maybe a dose of reality outside of a rose tinted fantasy that we all at some time must face the tragic. Watership Down, the death of Optimus Prime and Marina’s final moment all left their mark or memory, but Marina’s is personal. To sacrifice one’s own life knowing that you can never make the other person return the love that one has for another is quite moving. Not to the same extent, but sacrifice is very powerful theme that I love in other anime: Night on the Galactic Railroad, Mawaru Penguindrum and even the end of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam with Kamille’s loss of sanity.

A few years ago when the death announcement of Kirsten Bishop was all over the news in the anime world, most every one were mourning one of the original dub actors for that mega-hit show known as Sailor Moon. I was also in a state of melancholy, but not for Sailor Moon, but for the movie you are reading about. Kirsten voiced Marina during her teens and that innocent quality of her voice added so much for the character. The dub is not perfect, but her performance for me is pure gold. Kirsten from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

LM3.jpgTruth, in time, can never be hidden. Facing one’s own issues and honoring another’s decision is often painful, but a critical part of growing up. Death is never an answer, but often the experiences we know we can never fulfill end up in a way killing a part of  us inside. Accepting these events, though necessary, is never easy. Such is the value of what many consider only simple a ‘fairy tale’ or ‘children’s story’.