#185 : Aura Battler Dunbine

“Fortunate are those who remember the tales of Byston Well… ,” to quote the text that began many of the opening episodes for the 1983 mecha series Aura Battler Dunbine. Most fortunate are those that learn the lessons from the hardship of war, the downfall of power for selfish gain and the balancing act of dealing with emotional turbulence. Based on an adaptation of a concept from Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino that has been reinterpreted several times (Garzey’s Wing, Wings of Rean), Aura Battler Dunbine is a show that one never forgets.

ABD_1Often times I end up in tears when watching certain anime. I often expect this from really great work that brings you into the story. This can either be from something very sentimental between characters, or more often, the death of someone dear to the cast and plot of the show. During the last two episodes of Dunbine, I cried… very hard. The brutality of the war and watching one by one heroes and even sometimes antagonists go down was as painful as many of the largest loses of my life. Dunbine may be Tomino’s most brutal series in terms of his “Kill ’em all” trademark? I would say even more so than the likes of Ideon and Zeta Gundam, two series I truly love. Yet Dunbine is not all dark and gloom, there is a lot of light and at times comedy, but it’s the finale that often defines how a series feels for me in the end.

ABD_2The medieval European influence of Byston Well’s environment was a different take on the usual far future, outer space and/or alien invasion themes so prevalent to traditional mecha anime. Mixed with a form of fantasy laden technology and pagan mythological wonder, Dunbine would include insect like mecha designs (Aura Battlers), psychic powers and even fairy like characters that have a number of translated variations in English. This is a world where individuals like you and me are transported via the Aura Road to Byston Well from Upper Earth to play out in a struggle between power hungry despots, moral crusaders and nature priestesses that control the balance of Byston Well in their hands. A hopeful motorcycle enthusiast, Sho/Show Zama, is one of these select few who lands in Byston Well and learns quickly of the power games and ambitions of one local lord Drake Luft. Sho/Show eventually defects with his acquired Dunbine (his Aura Battler) to the opposing side and eventually earns the trust, as well as admiration of another Upper Earth exile, Miss Marvel Frozen, one of the best female mech pilots of all time. And to top things off Sho/Show acquires a sidekick (maybe cheerleader is a better term?), one of the Ferario (the fairies I mentioned earlier), Cham Huau, one of my favorite characters from Dunbine.

ABD_3Byston Well and the concepts of aura power could relate heavily to our subconscious, both individual and collective. Byston Well was noted for being a place between sea and shore, a land where our souls come to rest after death, or perhaps even before birth. A world of dreams that in one aspect is outside our human existence, yet also running concurrently with it. The use of aura power reminds me of Ideon’s Ide power and Gundam’s newtype abilities. These are latent powers that are within us, where a select few learn to channel them, or awaken to them, like a Gundam newtype. Or perhaps it is the collective energies of our emotions, either peaceful, or destructive that shapes how we correspond with the universe much like Ideon’s Ide. Aura power also makes me think of the concepts: ‘thoughts create things’ and ‘the words we speak create our reality and actions’. Out of the subconscious comes forth our conscious reality.

ABD_4Currently I have watched Dunbine in total twice and I will say like many of Tominos’s shows, it is best to have multiple viewings to gain as much perspective as possible. Tomino can tell a good story, but he does not always give the information in an expected manner. Lastly I can’t dismiss the character designs of Tomonori Kogawa as perhaps my favorite from his vast resume (Ideon, Southern Cross, Cool Cool Bye, Xabungle as examples). As part of a unique trilogy of mecha series created by Sunrise in 1983, including Armored Trooper Votoms and Galactic Drifter Vifam, Aura Battler Dunbine is mecha anime at it’s best featuring a world of fantasy with reality, joy with hardship and spiritual power with technology.

… and let’s not forget Dunbine has some of the most bizarre names ever to be featured in anime. How would you feel to be named Shot Weapon?

#67 : The Door into Summer

DiS_1The line between childhood and adulthood can be very arbitrary, if it even exists at all. Physically growing is one thing, but the emotional and psychological circumstances are often the more pronounced to us no matter the age. Sometimes we are ready for growth and other times it smacks on us so hard in surprise that it leaves us in a state of shock. Coming of age stories in anime are many in number with several being dramatic… no… melodramatic. And then there is this 1981 hour long movie that defines, redefines and then turns everything I once knew into a soap opera beyond description. One of my all time favorites, The Door into Summer (Natsu e no Tobira).

To be honest The Door into Summer is much like a guilty pleasure for me. And it shouldn’t be so much, but this production has hot sexual hormones written all over it. And not in the way of being pornographic as The Door into Summer is very sensual in it’s eroticism and yet very dangerous at the same time. Like those naughty romance novels you can’t put down, because each new page is getting to a better part than before. The openness of sexuality is quite an eye opener for 1981, yet… Japan has always been a little more honest about sexuality told in any art form, even though they are known for being a more reserved culture.

DiS_2When begin ironically at an ending, always a great way to start a movie, where we see two boys looking to duel each other the old fashioned way with pistols over the love of a girl. The protagonist, Marion, rushes in to stop this senseless act and asking what has happened this summer break. From here we learn that we are in France in the 1840s as we go back to the beginning of the summer where Marion is left alone at his school residence hall with his school friends due to the fact his mother would rather be with her new husband that her only son. Marion is known as a supposed king of ‘cool’ by being the most rational in his group of friends. After all he stops a fight between two boys who are fighting over a girl that actually loves Marion. In the process, he enters a chicken competition with one of these boys by standing on railroad tracks and waiting for the next train to arrive. Very bold indeed.

DiS_3Upon beginning the movie I began by scratching my head as to the character designs. The Door into Summer is definitely a shojo manga adaptation, but these eyes, these face shapes… who penned these original designs? Then a familiar name came into my lap from some light research… the name of Keiko Takamiya. Ah yes, the original creator of Toward the Terra and Andromeda Stories, this is the answer. And as a shojo in general, the designs in this movie are very, very pretty. Kind of like Rose of Versailles injected with all the best of bishonen of perhaps Saint Seiya. Add to this the fact this was produced by Studio Madhouse showed another level of quality. For me Madhouse equals the creme of the crop and the line work, color and pastel like backgrounds add an ambience that are beyond verbal description.

DiS_4Returning to the aspect of sexuality, it is hard to believe, but during this film we see encounters of jealous suitors in love with the popular girl, a naughty older woman seducing young Marion and a glimpse into one of the boy’s unrequited homosexual desires unfold. Marion has to come to terms with all of this happening around him and with his own sense of self worth and his repressed desires for sexual intimacy. Definitely not a lightweight and thankfully so. Did I ever have a summer like this… not even close. It is entertainment after all, but still these yearnings are the back of all our minds. That feeling of getting down and dirty so to speak, with consent of course.

The Door into Summer is so hot you may get burned… and I bet you’ll watch it again every time you get the chance.

 

#50 : Windaria

Windaria_1When it comes to animated fairy tale or love stories, at least here in the west, Disney seems to have cornered the market. Everything ends happily ever after and no matter what good triumphs over evil. What would Shakespeare or the Ancient Greeks think of this? For every day there is a night. Love stories are as much about the pain and hardships of being authentic towards your true feelings. And in 1986, the year Studio Ghibli debuted Castle in the Sky, another film would show the strife and complexity of love, war and honesty. The beautiful shojo masterpiece known as Windaria.

Windaria_2Ask me what is the best animated film from Japan during the 1980s and I will always pick Windaria. Early Ghibli films are great, Akira was amazing and Macross: Do You Remember Love is my version of the Super Bowl, but Windaria is something special. Something very, very special. A product of my beloved Kaname Production, this 1986 gem is a film that is overlooked to the point of being a crime. I see it as an allegory of not following one’s truest desires or feelings and letting the environment dictate your life. It reminds me of a quote from an obscure movie about the composer Gustav Mahler, “Do things out of love and not duty, Duty destroys, duty always destroys.” And we see this concept through the eyes of two pairs of lovers caught up in a land on the brink of an impending war.

Windaria_3The first set of lovers are the more idealized in the tradition of fairy tale story telling. Princess Ahnas of Itha lives in a seaside paradise. She is carefree and beautiful, but she is also worried. Tensions with the neighboring kingdoms of Paro are begining to escalate. And this becomes a personal issue because she is in love with Jill, the prince of Paro. Neither of our young lovers want to see war and hope to create a bridge of peace, but much like Romeo and Juliet their star crossed love has a difficult road. And when the respective royalty on both sides pass their authoritative powers on, our couple has to decide which decision is of more importance. Is it their love and their hopes for the future, or their duty as members of the royal court to uphold their honors as heads of state?

Windaria_4Complimenting our royal duo is another young couple of more common origins. Izu and Marin are farmers in the neutral territory between Itha and Paro and their lives revolve around selling of their crops. primarily to Itha, and giving respect to their land by praying to the giant tree in their land known as Windaria. The one problem is with Izu, as he desires to be something more than a common farmer. His insecurity and angst shows his feelings that he is not good enough, but for Marin this is not the case. She loves him for who he genuinely is and cares nothing of what others expectations are. Despite this, Izu decides that he must do something to prove he is special and gets involved in the upcoming war. Just how this will this affect his relationship with Marin in the end?

Windaria_5Windaria is a tale of love and responsibility and in many ways is as I have stated above, the inverse of what a traditional Walt Disney film is. Our heroes have to face consequences for their actions and everything does not tie up nicely at the end. It is one of the saddest films I have ever seen, even on a par with Grave of Fireflies, but a little different. Even with all the tragedy, Windaria stands as one of the most beautifully made films in anime and what makes it that way is the gentleness that rides under the current of the madness. What we have is a cautionary tale, much like the true telling of The Little Mermaid, and often times the lessons we learn the hardest often are the ones that eventually make us open our eyes to see the beauty of what you truly have. Never forget the beauty of what you have in front of you and take care of yourself and your environment, because they are interdependent.

I will always hold Windaria high in my regard for the beauty of the story, the music, the haunting yet serene beginning sequence and the tear filled ending. Films like this only come to fruition on rare occasion and their impact is second to none. And lastly, thank you Kaname Production for producing this film. I have always loved the work you all have done and Windaria is a magnun opus you should be most proud of.

afternote: This has been released in the west as an edited film known as Once Upon a Time. I am not here to judge, but from what I have heard and read it is not a genuine retelling. Just be aware in case you come across a copy of this film with an English dub.