#111 : Space Pirate Captain Harlock

SPCH_1Let me tell you about about a man by the name of Harlock. “Now thats a name I have not heard in a long time, a long time,”… ok, the truth is that it may have been only five minutes because this man, this character, this legend is so ingrained into my fandom that I sometimes wonder what would I be without the presence of Captain Harlock. A creation of one of my favorite manga heroes, Leiji Matsumoto, Harlock is in many ways the man I would like to become. And while there have been a multitude of instances that Harlock has been brought into the zeitgeist of the present, the original TV series of 1978 stands as a personal Bible and one of my favorite series of all time.

SPCH_2Space Pirate Captain Harlock was and still is a show that I hold near and dear to my heart. Harlock’s premise is quite interesting as our hero, Harlock, is very just and high on being a moralist of his own convictions and yet, a villain to the establishment. Many times Harlock reminds me of Alan Watts take on the outsider (Youtube link) as Harlock is not productive to what is dictated by society. He lives by his own rules and pirates because he sees the corruption and waste in the downfall that is called humanity. The human race would rather play and waste their time and resources for their own self indulgent pleasures, while taking for granted the beauty of their environment. Plus, it does not help that an alien invasion of plant like female agents known as the Mazone (Amazon variation?) are also on the scene. Yet it is Harlock in the end who saves the Earth and humanity even though he has been forsaken and branded as a criminal. How ironic?

SPCH_3While our eyed patched hero is the star of the show, it is the rest of his crew of 42 (just who is this mysterious 42nd crew member?) that give life to this sci-fi epic. It seems that everyone on the ship Arcadia has a story. Usually it’s heartbreaking, or fated, but the only place, the only solace that this group of 42 has found is with each other aboard Harlock’s beloved Arcadia. All ages, all circumstances and all walks of life are welcome to join the ship so long as you help in your own way at the appropriate time. Seems fair and easy, but it is a hard road because in the end you end up finding out more of who you really are.

I want to spend a moment more on Harlock as a character; in particular his loyalty. I have mentioned his loyalty to the Earth, but why does he fight for a planet and it’s people that refuse to welcome him? The answer lies in the strong loyalty to his deceased best friend, the architect of his ship and the best sidekick ever (maybe?), Tochiro Oyama. Harlock is guardian to Tochiro’s only daughter Maya and she still resides on the Earth. She represents the future of humanity and Harlock protects her and the Earth like they were his own children because Harlock could not forgive himself if he ever took back his loyalty and promises to his best friend. Again, how can this man be branded a criminal? Maybe they are jealous of his awesome hair (I know I am!).

SPCH_4Visually Space Pirate Captain Harlock looks the era it was created in, which is all analog and extra stylish… awesome indeed. Rintaro, Captain Harlock’s director, is known for a visual approach that exudes drama and intensity. Many of his works often get lost in the visual eye candy of each scene; the image become the focus more than the story (from my experiences with his work). This may be the case since most of his better known projects are auteur films, but Space Pirate Captain Harlock is a longer run TV series (and a job for Toei where he is not in complete control), so this provides room for story to exist with the impressive visual narrative. Rintaro’s arthouse style exponentiates the emotional space opera brilliance of Leiji Matsumoto. Watch in particular the high contrast scenes that turn a simple moment into a great happening such as the murder of Professor Daiba as an example.

As long as a Jolly Roger waves aboard that beautiful ship named Arcadia, I know I can and will live free, question authority and search for that quiet spot in myself to find my own piece of personal authenticity. This story, while set in the future of 2978, with the corruption and downfall of man, echoes of truth today. After all what is the difference between 1978, 2018, or 2978? It is all the present moment, just a different cycle. Are we in the end being true to ourselves, our environment, and/or our humanity?

Space Pirate Captain Harlock, what a man and what a show 🙂 Gohrum!

#109 : The Transformers: The Movie

TF_movie_1Years before maturity and discovering talented filmmakers in the line of Stanley Kubrick and Ingmar Bergman, there was the seven, or perhaps eight year old version of me that was in love with what I considered… The Greatest Movie Ever Made! The Transformers was the hottest cartoon on TV and one of the hottest toys of the mid 1980s, but all of this fails in comparison to the awe, wonder and larger than life spectacle of the generically named The Transformers: The Movie. How do I feel about this movie after thirty plus years of watching… well, it’s not the greatest movie ever made, but it is still an important stepping stone and a fun experience.

TF_movie_2No matter what anyone says about The Transformers: The Movie, I admit the plot is cheesy, the characterization is generic and you can even say that it was a cheap ploy to dump the previous year’s line from toy shelves. But… you can’t deny that this film is gorgeous to look at. Vibrant colors, fluid motion and excellent drawing exudes quality. Right? Watch that introduction again with Unicron attacking the planet and tell me what you think. The TV show looked pretty good, but this film is, visually, a masterpiece. Of course it was animated at Toei and funded by Hasbro, so that is a good combination. In fact for the release date of 1986, it was a nicer looking film than the Fist of the North Star film… come on Toei, what about the local community? I suppose the American dollars from Hasbro helped… most likely.

TF_movie_3I see no reason in going over the plot as it is the simple Autobots vs. Decepticons fare, except with a new cast of characters voiced by many a famous name at the time. Does anyone remember Judd Nelson or Robert Stack? But the standout moments for me include Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime’s ascension to Autobot leadership, Megatron’s metamorphosis into Galvatron (so well animated), the introduction of the Quintessons and “Bah weep granah weep nini bong.” “Don’t worry they’ll reciprocate.” Of course the big issue of this movie was the fact that characters died… brutally. Why is is that here in the west we have to hide death and impermanence from children? After all, we would be a greater society if we wouldn’t hide this stuff under the rug. STOP TELLING LIES TO CHILDREN!

TF_movie_4Now did I cry over Optimus Prime’s death? Not that I remember, but I did feel loss. I even then accepted the fact that the great leader had to sacrifice for a newer generation. I for one have nothing against Hot Rod for jumping in to help out, and some fans don’t like Roddy, but I really do like the kid… one of my all time favorite Transformers in fact (I see a bit of me in him). Optimus would have the most heroic of heroic deaths and went out with honesty and integrity, unlike his some of his fellow Autobots like Ironhide, who groveled for mercy, or Prowl, who belted out smoke and fire (yowzers). Yet nothing compares to the death of the king of backstabbers, Starscream. Perhaps one of the best characters ever in The Transformers, Starscream would get his just desserts in perhaps the most violent shooting I have ever witnessed. “Will anyone else attempt to fill his shoes?”

What I find ironic about this movie and even to a small extent the original G1 totality, is how much it is not recognized in the general popular culture. The Transformers are now known the world over in the guise of various re-imaginations. Every generation has ‘their’ show or movie to call ‘their’ own. But what of the original source material? Much like other subjects, you can never really know the whole truth unless you go all the way back to the beginning. Perhaps I am just settled in my ways as an old G1 fan. Still with any franchise or knowledge for that matter, you have to dig into the past to find true perspective in anything.

TF_movie_5In the end I have seen The Transformers: The Movie more times than I care to count. I am sure I will watch it again, but due to ingrained repetitions, I can recite the entire film blindfolded and with plugged ears… maybe. It is generic, slightly dated and fodder for a lot of nostalgia for some of us, but in the end again… it is a great film to look at. Hand drawn animation at one of it’s finest hours and a fun flick to share with friends, some popcorn and maybe even show a tear at times. It was the cornerstone of my childhood and a long lasting influence that exists into the present. The Transformers: The Movie still has ‘the touch‘ 🙂

“Till All Are One”

#103 : Horus: Prince of the Sun

Horus_1I often wonder, was Horus: Prince of the Sun ‘born under a bad sign’? Many circumstances attempted to derail this early gem of the modern era of Japanese animation. It went over budget, it took more time to finish and even the parent animation company of Toei and it’s producers wanted to shelf this film. Why? This film had and even still has so much potential; it took chances and sounded a battlecry for a new generation of animators. And there in lies the answer as Horus: Prince of the Sun attempted to break free of the conservative standards of the day by telling a different story in both concept and direction. The results of this would honor Horus with critical notoriety over the years as one of the crowning achievements of the 1960s.

Horus_2By 1968 Isao Takahata had become a solid veteran in the animation industry and gained a reputation as a leader of those younger up and coming members of the industry in the 1960s. With both TV and film work of various degrees under his belt there was one achievement that this young man had left to fulfill and that was to direct a feature film. This opportunity came, but at a price. As mentioned before from the start this movie had some nasty karma associated with it. Producers at Toei, money and time all had a hand in stopping this film, but Takahata with his quiet demeanor and steadfast approach to being a director made sure that this film would get made, finished and then released.

The major controversy of this film can be traced into the story itself. The Norse mythology and look that was used was nothing more than a cover for another story that existed underneath. Japan’s native population, the Ainu, had for generations been looked down upon yet their culture was rich and diverse. A new generation wanted to adapt a traditional tale of the Ainu and present a more serious subject matter to give animation a more mature option. Both progress and change are a part of civilization and this new generation of artists and animators wanted to be at the vanguard of this movement. This was the 1960s after all and be it America, Europe, or Japan, the youth of the period were questioning and protesting against the rules and the establishment of their day.

Horus_3The story is a quintessential tale of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ (all hail Joseph Campbell) where our young hero Horus, sometimes translated to Hols, must integrate into the greater whole of civilization. This is a common theme I find in Takahata’s work and both sides of the extreme can be seen in Grave of the Fireflies (going against society and/or being ignored by society) on one end of the spectrum and Pom Poko (the community coming together for a common concern) on the other. Horus soon settles into a town and becomes a local hero after conquering a giant pike (fish) that prevented fish from being a food source to the local people. Soon afterwards he meets a wayward girl, Hilda, with a mysterious and unknown past and a large, very large, chip on her shoulder. Hilda is quite a complex character and her relationship with Horus is complicated and becomes a key element for the plot of the story as the film progresses forward.

Horus_4Horus: Prince of the Sun not only took more seriously the storytelling, but also on a technical level, the animation itself. This film amongst other examples of the era raised the standard of the quality of Japan’s output. Disney was the standard and Horus: Prince of the Sun is on par with the quality of the venerated classic Disney films. In certain aspects it excels, in particular with the action sequences with the pike fight and the final showdown. Of course Japan has always had an edge (my opinion) in regards to action and the movement and fluidity required to make those sequences work.

This is a film that has taken a few views on my part to fully appreciate the greatness to what Horus: Prince of the Sun truly is. Due to the issues with the production of the film it has it’s own way of unfolding the plot, which took me a little getting used to, but once I understood the whole of the scope of this film I came to love this movie. It’s classic Takahata and I recommend you to watch this one at least once to see where anime once was, where anime was going and see where this film has left it’s influence today.

… on a personal note, I dedicate this posting to the memory of Isao Takahata who passed away recently. Thank you good sir for your work and I for one will never forget the stories you shared with us all.

Isao Takahata
Oct 29, 1935 – Apr. 5, 2018

#95 : Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin

SF_1Often times shonen fighters are a time tested formula much like a twelve bar blues. Everyone has their rendition of the young boy setting out into the world and in the process makes friends, fights adversaries, then make friends of former adversaries and get involved in lots of training. Now for this time round let’s drop the whole idea of our hero being a human being. How about a tale from the animal world and in particular the world of our canine friends? A shonen fighter about dogs? This is Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin (Ginga: Nagareboshi Gin).

SF_2Here is a mashup for you… let’s combine some older more serious Shonen Jump properties like say Fist of the North Star and Saint Seiya, add a little bit of the classic adventures of famed writer Jack London (White Fang and The Call of the Wild comes to mind) and for good measure lets also add a little bit of Watership Down. This is how I interpret Silver Fang in a basic tidy package. The presence of dogs are nothing new to anime, examples include: Casshan’s cybernetic Friender, the large mecha-like Yatter-Wan from Yatterman (I need to see more of this show!) and Ein in Cowboy Bebop. All three of these examples show the dog as a sidekick, a minor character, but to have the dogs themselves be the main attraction and more ‘human’ like with a complex structure of language, society and free will is a nice change (hence the Watership Down reference). Living life, having the human experience in the guise of a dog.

SF_3Gin’s origins trace him to a family of hunting dogs. His father, Riki, accompanies his master in the hunting of the great super villian, Akakabuto (an insane giant bear). Dogs versus bears… interesting. During this hunt Riki goes missing and is presumed to be dead. In the meantime Gin’s birth occured and would be soon he would be reared under a little boy named Daisuke. A boy and his dog, so cute! This sort of childhood for Gin would end once Daisuke’s grandfather, the hunter mentioned earlier, begins to train and toughen up little Gin to become a bear hunter. Again dogs versus bears, amazing. Gin’s time in the wilderness would get him acquainted with another hunting dog who eventually tells Gin about a colony of dogs who have gone wild to fight Akakabuto. Gin tastes the ‘call of the wild’ and sets off onto the hero’s journey. And on this journey he will meet many a sempai who helps him grow up, but one question remains. Who is the leader of this group of dogs and what actually did happen to Gin’s father, Riki?

SF_4For a Shonen Jump manga that ran for 28 volumes can you imagine how many episodes made it into final production? Perhaps 100 or so… no. OK, maybe 52… ah nope. 26!? The correct answer is 19. Wow, thats not many for back in the day, but let’s look a little deeper. Silver Fang debuted in 1986 under the shadow of two other higher profile Shonen Jump brothers and all three of these were animated at Toei. The siblings Silver Fang had competition with was none other than Dragon Ball and Saint Seiya; David vs. two Goliaths in a nut shell. And yet in the shorter span of story telling you get what you need, so not much filler. Kind of a relief in a way, yet with the longer run of the manga I wonder how much was cut to make this production?

Shonen Jump celebrates 50 years this year (2018). The big names will get another day in the sun; Dragon Ball, One Piece and Naruto will most likely have lots of exposure. But, I say why remember and stay with the nostalgia of familiar properties when you can try another show you may not have seen before. Being that 2018 is the year of the dog in the Chinese Zodiac, I nominate Gin as the mascot for this year. All the more reason to give Silver Fang: Shooting Star Gin a chance in your playlist.

… lions and tigers and DOGS versus BEARS, oh my!

#82 : Cutie Honey

CH_1We need a hero… right here and right NOW! Not just any hero, but a warrior of love. Ai no Senshi! And we need a lady to do this job, because guys I am sorry, you and I have had enough of being the champion. It is time for the ladies to shine, transform and kick butt. And, NO!… Sailor Moon you need to sit down my dear because you have to meet your awesome auntie who did it all first. Sometimes she is a news reporter, sometimes a fashion model, or sometimes a motorcycle racer, but to me, she is just awesome. She is after all, the one, the only… Cutie Honey. Or perhaps it’s Honey Kisaragi? Cue that famous tagline… Honey Flash!

CH_2Now I will be the first to admit that I love 60s camp. Even though Cutie Honey was a product of 1973, it retains all the over the top theatrics of say Barbarella, Modesty Blaise and maybe I am stretching it Valley of the Dolls (Neely O’ Hara!… OK, I am stretching a little). But the bright colors, the over the top acting, the parody (either intended or not) and all that big hair and fashion is simply fun. Now add all that into a magical girl show, but instead of an ordinary human lady, let’s make our pretty girl an android. And this story also needs a shonen fighter sensibility as well just because. That should be all the ingredients we need, now lets make this show rock!

CH_3Go Nagai, you sir have a twisted mind, and yet brilliant as well. From the guy who sprang forth titles ranging from Mazinger Z, Getter Robo, Devilman and even the lewd Violence Jack would come Cutie Honey. And it shows, in particular with the bad ladies of the criminal organization Honey fights each episode, the nefarious Panther Claw. These villainesses of the week come in all shapes, sizes and with the wildest choices of costuming to boot. I have never seen the female form look as beautiful and/or grotesque at the same time. And then you have the leaders of Panther Claw, Panther Zora and Sister Jill. Sister Jill, with her dominatrix costume and well endowed figure, I am sure made many young boys lust over the bad girl instead of our heroic Honey. But then again, Honey has a fan club a mile long…

CH_4Such as those Hayami boys. Honey’s boyfriend Seiji, his father Danbei and his younger brother Junpei all show their devotion and attraction to ‘Miss It Girl’ Honey usually by comedic means. More than just comic relief, when Honey is in a jam, or needs a second hand, she can rely on the skills of the Hayami clan. And then there is Miss Alphonse… could be a lesbian, could just be enamored by Honey’s beauty, or could it just be that mustache? Honey has yet another reason to skip class besides being a little rebellious. Oh how it is to be so popular. Of course her looks are not what makes her attractive to Panther Claw. That necklace she wears around her neck is their prey. With it she can transform to all her alter egos, besides that it is one hell of a McGuffin device.

And now for something completely different… let’s talk music. In particular the themes, both the opener and the closer. These are perfect gems that have been resurrected in every reincarnation of our hero Honey. But the original versions… timeless. The opening is funky, funny and catchy beyond belief with the punchy bass, fuzzy guitar and string and horn sections scream the pop music of the day. I say, it’s time to dance and shake it. Now the closer on the other hand is a soft ballad that could have been a product of say Burt Bacharach production and arrangement. It still stands for me as one of the best songs I have ever heard in anime. It’s kind of romantic, like a great dance song.

A staple of 1970s Japanese animation, a classic soundtrack and an iconic hero. A triple powerhouse combination on why Cutie Honey lives on in it’s original and more current adaptations (including an awesomely bad live action version). When evil calls we will always have Honey Kisaragi to save the day. “I’m changing now”… wink!

#76 : Fist of the North Star (movie)

#44 : M.D. GeistDo you think you know Fist of the North Star? I thought I did from all the reputation of the so called ‘manliness’. Manliness… HAHAHA!… this is a Shonen Jump adaptation, COME ON! Nothing wrong with SJ titles though. I was thinking this was another slaughterfest and testosterone showoff for masculinity. And yet, the movie adaptation could be viewed that way, but look a little closer… and what can be seen… I found an honorable hero, a struggle between pairs of opposites and a story of redemption. Fist of the North Star turned out for me to be the ultimate journey of the hero, the spiritual quest fulfilled and a pretty good film.

FotNS_1It all started with a single second hand VHS tape. I had bought a load of anime on tape during a low time in my life, I was between jobs. The universe gifted me all these $1 deals. Fist of the North Star, the old Streamline dub release, was among this grouping. So now I had a copy of this famed movie and upon getting home it would find it’s way into my VCR. As I said earlier, I was expecting an all out unemotional gore fest similar to M.D. Geist or Violence Jack. And yet the film begins talking about the balance of the universe and that there are two schools of self defense that symbolize this balance. These schools can never fight each other because if they do, the world will be at a mess. I shook my head… this is all Eastern spiritual practice. This is deep and up my alley… well then I am interested in continuing this story.

FotNS_2Let’s now talk about our main protagonist, Kenshiro. Muscle clad and buff beyond belief… and yet, quiet and gentile. A man who holds the power to make a head explode via knowledge of pressure points in the body with any other personality would be insanity. Much like Captain Harlock, he is the stoic figure and an island of calm in a world that is out of control. Maybe Kenshiro is karma in human form? And as much as he can inflict damage, his hands can also heal. Creation and destruction often go hand in hand and in the hands of Kenshiro, they meet perfectly. The first time I had acupuncture I mentioned this anime to my Chinese Medicine practitioner and he found the concept fascinating. Both FotNS and acupuncture are about opening up energy sections on particular points of the body… so they go hand in hand (that saying again?). I still get acupuncture to this day with the same practitioner because it’s so awesome.

FotNS_3Now I know I said that FotNS is more than just a fighting anime, but… yeah, it is maybe the complete definition of a fighting anime. While Dragon Ball and DBZ may hold the crown, it cannot neglect it’s older brother. FotNS follows more hand in hand with say Saint Seiya (loves this one) with being more serious and intense. And I love a heavy melodrama, but where FotNS beats out both DB or SS it there is no safety net in regards if you are mortally wounded, you are done… no second chances. But, FotNS and Kenshiro may get a lot of credit being the first shonen fighter, but I shake my head at this. Shows from the 70s like Casshan or Babel II would lay the real ground work in my opinion.

FotNS_4Two big thumbs up for this is film adaptation. First the artwork is beautiful, almost like that movie that Toei also worked on for the west, the original Transformers: The Movie. Strong color and fluid motion that is an improvement over the TV series. Also, its a one shot run. Compared to the long TV series… which is good, but for me really, really dragged on and on. That being said the quicker pace of the movie might make you go, whoa we are at this part already? You have to cut some of the fat out and certain areas like smaller main antagonists and Kenshiro’s brother Toki I miss the most.

I often put this movie in the same pedigree as the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Bloodsport. They kind of go hand in hand (had to say it once more for good measure), being fighting movies that take’s themselves so seriously with a certain bit of 1980s style that they become very entertaining. Plus, you have to love that theme song Heart of Madness ‘for a long, long time’ to sing along with. Fist of the North Star is a unique animal and is one of the go to anime from the 1980s that needs to be experienced at least once. After all, how do you end a film between two brawny guys fighting each other to the death? Have a little girl come between them to say that all the fighting in humanity is pointless. Priceless!

#65 : Beast King GoLion

GL_1“Hey mom! When I grow up I want to pilot a robot lion and save the universe from all the bad guys. And then I would have four other teammates who also pilot lions and guess what? All five of us would form this gigantic behemoth of a robot. And… and from the hands, which are lion mouths by the way, a sword would be formed that could be our fail safe final weapon to save the day.  Wouldn’t that be totally awesome mom?”… “Yes dear, but don’t forget to eat your green beans.”… “Yeah… ok. I wonder if the five pilots from Beast King GoLion had to eat their green beans too?”

FGL_2rom days of long ago… about 1984. From unchartered regions of the universe… my childhood basement. Bore a future otaku… THAT’S ME! We can all point to our genesis point, our first experience, or to be blunt… the anime we lost our so called otaku virginity to. Beast King GoLion was my first lover so to speak under the guise that many of my age will remember with nostalgia as Voltron: Defender of the Universe. I was five… so young, innocent and impressionable. And what I got was fantasy, sci-fi, fairy tails and giant robots. What a combination, plus, character designs and drawings that looked a little different and set a standard to me as to what a cartoon should be. And when it came to sci-fi of the time it was Star Wars vs. Voltron. Voltron and anime won out for me 🙂 And even though the show was edited and censored here in the west, there was enough of an itch, to keep the scratch of curiosity alive in me.

GL_3Now much further ahead in time… when the announcement that the original GoLion series would be released here in the States, I immediately knew I had to see it and purchase these DVDs. This was a no brainer, I mean after all I needed to see what the 1981 original show had to tell. And in many ways I wanted to see what was different in terms of plot, edits and characterization. And while the advertising hyped up that the original Japanese version as more violent, I found that to be very limiting in scope. That kind of target marketing is what keeps the kind of mindset of entertainment in a very immature state. But needless to say, if I did witness these more intense scenes as a youth who knows the damage that it could have done. But, then again, I also witnessed the death of Optimus Prime in the original Transformers: The Movie, Watership Down and Toei’s 1975 adaptation of The Little Mermaid and became in the end, a fairly functional and healthy individual.

GL_4So is GoLion better than Voltron? Not so much better (as what defines better?), just more concise. And much like Voltron’s other sister series, Diarugger XV, GoLion flows better as a series as plot points make so much more sense. And yes, people die sometimes and don’t go to the hospital planet. Still this is a basic story of five guys from Earth getting kidnapped and then escaping from the evil Galra Empire to crash onto planet Altea where they meet a really pretty princess, her ward and a group of space mice that hold guard to the great robot champion GoLion. And it turns out that GoLion needs five pilots to operate, what a coincidence! After all GoLion is kind of like a play on the word go, which in English is to move and in Japanese is the number five. Reminds me of Mach Go Go Go, you know Speed Racer. Eventually one of our heroes succumbs to the Galra empire and our lovely princess takes up the charge and joins the team. It’s a brilliant fairy tale adventure told through a sci-fi mecha lens.

For my generation GoLion became a right of passage, but the one issue I have with the show is the fact that it becomes a standard to draw towards. In other words… a brand. GoLion/Voltron is great and if it is one of your favorite mecha shows all the power to you, but just remember there are other shows that are just as great, maybe even better, that are available if you open up to them. Still if it wasn’t for GoLion, Voltron and the fall of 1984 in kindergarten class, this blog would never exist. Classic Toei animation at it’s best… Go Go GoLion.