#78 : Saint Seiya: The Movies

Saint Seiya, oh how I love thee, let me count the ways… I can forgive many of the short comings of Saint Seiya. In essence, it is a run of the mill shonen fighter, but the inclusion of Greek mythology, astrology and heavy melodrama make it a heavy favorite for me. The original TV series I love dearly, the manga was great, the Hades Arc OVAs which finished the original manga adaptation was welcomed. A couple years ago, the company Discotek released a bunch of SS materials. I bought a few of these DVDs and here is what came of that purchase.

SS_M_1I will only make comment on the four SS films that were released from 1987 to 1989. All of these were released by Discotek and fall into my blog’s concentration on anime of the 1970s and 1980s. Several other productions would appear decades later, but these four titles will be under the spotlight: Evil Goddess Eris (1987), The Heated Battle of the Gods (1988), Legend of Crimson Youth (1988) and Warriors of the Final Holy Battle (1989). All four are out of canon to the original manga and ironically The Heated Battle of the Gods is an alternative to the filler Asgard Arc from the TV series. These films are more for fun and I am sure were created to keep the SS marketing machine going.

SS_M_2All four movies are very cliche and are so formulaic that I end up predicting the whole plot before the beginning credits. Though each film has it’s own pace and variation on the so called theme, or leitmotif of the fightype formula of successive adversaries leading up to, they all kind of go like this… A great arch enemy descends and brings five subordinates. In the process Saori/Athena either gets kidnapped, or wooed away (if this enemy is oh so charming and handsome). Then our five Bronze Saints begin there quest to save their sacred leader. Usually Pegasus Seiya goes first and then gets that crap kicked out of him, but defeats the adversary. Next comes Cygnus Hyoga and the process repeats and then we get to Dragon Shiryu. He as well falls after a great fight, but Shiryu ends up having his cloth removed because we all have to witness his owe so muscular chest. Seriously, watch any SS and this always happen.

SS_M_3Next we get a double feature with Andromeda Shun, the ‘cute’ one who is more of a pacifist, also falls victim to his adversary. And that is when Shun’s brother Phoenix Ikki shows up and says, “Yo, you be messin’ with my brother? I’m gonna mess you up good!” Then Ikki puts the smack down. Seriously, always bailing out your younger brother. When will Shun learn to take care of himself? Later, Athena falls into further peril and all five of the boys, though being deeply beaten, trek towards the final showdown to take down the big bad enemy. All five boys take a stand one at a time and then like a miracle of the heavens, the Sagittarius Gold Cloth appears. Of course it chooses Seiya every time and all the boys cry out “Seiya, Seiya” and after that… Seiya reborn to perfection and full of strength draws the bow to shoot the golden arrow to save the day. Then all is happy ever after. …you can’t make this all up?

SS_M_4Of the four films, three are 45 minute shorts so it makes sense that they are not the most deep in regards for plot. You are cramming a supposed arc into less than an hour! The third film, Legend of Crimson Youth, which is over an hour long, has a plot that bends the predictive formula and has a bit more drama and… is my favorite of the four. Plus, in this film, we see the resurrection and inclusion of the five Gold Saints who fell during the Sanctuary Arc of the TV series: Gemini Saga, Cancer Deathmask, Capricorn Shura, Aquarius Camus and Pisces Aphrodite. Gold Saints forever!, they add to the plot greatly. This was also a film which celebrated the 20th anniversary of SS’s parent publisher, Shonen Jump.

So in final, I would watch these one at a time and… Nothing is ever a substitute for that original Sanctuary arc of the TV series 🙂 These are, as mentioned earlier, sideline stories that are not a part of the original plot so take these for what you will.

#76 : Fist of the North Star (movie)

Do 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 tales 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.