#147b : The Harp of Burma

[Intro: The Harp of Burma represents two episodes from the collective 1986 TV series Animated Classics of Japanese Literature.]

Could you recognize an old friend who reappears after some time like a ghost some how coming back to life in a physical body? Could you understand why a passing face that you know so well and would think that giving a simple greeting of hello would only give silence? Can you understand the emotion on someone’s face, knowing what it is like to be in their shoes? Often we look for our purpose in life, or end up believing the path we are on is our true direction. And then sometimes life happens to deliver you something else all together different out of the blue. The story of The Harp of Burma is perhaps one of the best tales of spiritual transformation affecting one individual’s life.

HoB_1World War II is winding down as we find a small Japanese unit near the Burmese border. The year is 1945 and to keep their morale high these soldiers often break into song. A young soldier by the name of Mizushima taught his comrades to sing and his musical skills would accompany them with a Burmese harp. It is this fraternal bond that holds the group together and it would be together that the news would arrive that the war these men had been fighting in for some time was now over. Captured and brought to a P.O.W. camp, they would wait until news from Japan would signal their return home. In the mean time Mizushima was asked to volunteer to join a group to alert another Japanese unit about the fact that the war was over. He would take this assignment, but in the process would not return, bringing sadness to his friends.

HoB_2The possibility of Mizushima being alive never left the spirits of his fellow compatriots. It was in a split second moment, a chance encounter with a passing Buddhist monk (priest in my sub translation) that the reality of Mizushima had indeed survived, or did he? The monk looked very much like him, but how could that be… Mizushima was a Japanese soldier, not a Buddhist monk? Who was this monk and why was he so silent and cautious towards the company of Japanese soldiers? Such is the mystery of The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp), originally a book by Michio Takeyama, which unfolds the tale of Mizushima. We follow his coming into contact with a monk’s robe and his sworn vow and duty to pay homage and respect to all his dead compatriots left behind on foreign soil.

HoB_3Animated Classics of Japanese Literature contained an interesting mix of stories from a meta-series that appears to be very plain and mundane if judged by appearance alone. Several of the episodes I came to enjoy, but The Harp of Burma really stood out; it moved me like few anime before or since. This was one of the best stories I have ever seen about both sacrifice and compassion. War and other traumatic situations always leave a scar to those who experience the event first hand, but does it also change something inside of you? Does that experience make you more apt to show kindness and gratitude, or even change your life direction at the drop of a hat? Dry eyes were non existent for me each time I saw the two episode special, particularly at the ending. So often we ask what can I do to make my life better, but how often do we ask, what can I do to ease someone else’s suffering with no expectation of anything in return?

HoB_4Well known in Japan, The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp) also exists as two live action film adaptations, both directed by Kon Ichikawa. His original version in 1956 is considered a classic and after watching the trailer I have strong interest to track down and watch this version. It reminds me of  Ingmar Bergman’s work from that era. It’s black and white, portrays serious character analysis and feels like a film made by crafted hands (no computers!): all yummy in my book. This can act as a great substitute if you can’t find the anime and of course there is always the original novel. It Is not very often I find anime like The Harp of Burma and it may not be too everyone’s liking, but in terms of expressing the human experience of transformation of the soul, The Harp of Burma is one of my all time favorites. Period!

#215e : The Transformers (Season 4)

Three episodes! Just three? How can this be considered a season? …that sounds more like a miniseries to me. And alas, The Transformers here in the west would receive a proper finale and in a hurry as well with a trilogy of episodes. Better this than nothing at all, but seriously who cheapened out on the potential here? Then again here is another perspective, maybe The Transformers here in the west were running out of gas? Perhaps ready to retire? In any case let’s properly finish this classic show!

TF_S4_11987, the fall… oh I remember it very well. New episodes of The Transformers were ready for viewing except this batch would be the very last. For real?! Coming in at a total of 98 by the end of this fourth season, The Transformers was a long ride I enjoyed viewing during the prime years of my childhood. This final trilogy would be known as The Rebirth and how does it clean up all the loose ends, while leaving the ending a little open ended. Fun and action packed, being another new season we get another grouping of more characters to watch… I am beginning to lose count here. We get a double spy, twins, the Throttlebots, the Targetmasters, the Headmasters and even one who can transform into six different modes. SIX! Kinda makes me miss the good old days of robot becoming a car, or an airplane. Still, these new types of characters are very creative and innovative.

TF_S4_2Don’t expect too much plot here besides saving Cybertron and restoring the plasma energy chamber. Remember this is only three episodes. The first release of DVDs here in North America from Rhino had an interview with the writer of The Rebirth, David Wise, who gave his take on the process of making this last season work. Originally this was slated as five episodes, then cut to three. If you can find this interview it is a great watch to see the nuts and bolts behind making a show like this. What to expect then is a run and gun approach by bringing in a character, or several, to cameo for maybe a couple seconds then moving on to the next scene, etc. etc. It is very watchable and entertaining, but wow talk about a rush to promote the entire 1987 toy line. At least we get a true and proper ending for The Transformers, a true “That’s all folks!” for us fans. Very few cartoons ever get this type of treatment. The Transformers not only got to walk away at the top of its game, but it also did it in a polished way… that was also rushed.

TF_S4_3And now for something completely different, Japan would release their own version of the season depicting the 1987 toyline. An alternative version of The Rebirth and yet not quite. The Headmasters would have a full 35 episodes telling a completely different take on the mythology which begs the questions, which one is canon? Take your pick… I say both… alternate universes as a theory. I slightly prefer The Headmasters in terms of the larger plot line and direction it took, but The Rebirth is still entertaining. Japan, Toei and Takara would pick up the torch abandoned by Sunbow, AKOM and Hasbro to continue the G1 animation outings for a few more runs showing that The Transformers were far from dead at the end of 1987. Then again, either way you look at it, the beginnings from way back in 1984 were completed in both series to a certain degree. Time to ride out into the sunset. ~ FIN

Introduction Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Season 4

#215d : The Transformers (Season 3)

The Transformers: The Movie was a game changer for me. I got to see my beloved Transformers in a high quality presentation, set in the then future and with some intense drama. Of course I considered it the greatest movie ever made at the time; I was very young then. Now I see it as a beautiful example of traditional cel animation. The fall of 1986 would bring yet another season of The Transformers with elements from this new movie. Exciting! Time for some totally new changes in the mythos of The Transformers. Yet at heart this is still the same show, just continuing on during a new era.

TF_S3_1Remember when the year of 2006 seemed like a far off future? Decades unreachable at one time, but when viewed now that year is more like a distant memory. I am sure some of you may not have been born yet? The film ended, but there was more to tell in terms of what was introduced in the summer of 1986. With all of these new and older elements in place one can see season three as a mixed bag. I am sure many do not like this season for the fact of all the changes and the unfamiliarity… and some characters. Yet the more that we change we stay the same. The third season would continue the more imaginative sci-fi and fantasy that was introduced the previous year except now we are in the future (that has past us now) with many new characters including the first full-time female Autobot lead (we love you Arcee!) and stories. The downside in some ways was the writing and characterizations which at times are not the strongest in certain episodes, but there are some things that this third season did very well.

TF_S3_2Darker themes would begin to creep into some of the plots lines. Rodimus Prime being the new leader of the Autobots lacked the confidence of Optimus Prime. He was more human and vulnerable and as a character I appreciate him sometimes more than the idolized Autobot champion. Death also plays a heavy role as seeing the ghost of certain fallen Autobots and Decepticons from the movie make their presence as well. Dark Awakening being one of the more unpolished episodes visually is perhaps one of the best episodes that expressed the heavier mood. Even the Quintessons are creepy and always so super serious! Not to say there was not humor as well. Think Grimlock’s New Brain, which is a favorite episode of mine for the fact that the Technobots were born during this half hour.

TF_S3_3Our new cast is vast and many get only a handful of showings that are short lived. Many new faces did however get some time in the sun to show themselves. None more so than Cyclonus and Scourge who only got brief moments to even say a line, or two, in the movie. Cyclonus is a particular favorite of mine. He has a nobility and a sense of honor that lacks in many of the Decepticons. Almost like the dark twin of Ultra Magnus? Talk about a departure for the Decepticons second in command, almost like an inverse of Starscream. Sadly some of the new characters are just kind of dull, or overly cartoonish, and can be seen as window decoration. Marissa Fairborne of Earth Defense Command is a welcome addition to the human group of characters. Is she really Flint’s daughter, from G.I. Joe? And speaking of G.I. Joe, there is some guy who looks and sounds way too much like Cobra Commander… a nice cross over moment.

TF_S3_4Highlighting this season are the opening and closing episodes, which are multi-parters. The quintet of Five Faces of Darkness (could this be a pun? Five and five?) and the double episode finale of the super obvious The Return of Optimus Prime both give this season a proper start and finish and flush out more of the mythology of The Transformers and Cybertron. Plus fans were pleased to see Optimus Prime return at the end. I see that now as a nice gesture, but really? Why not bring back Tracks, or Sunstreaker too! While season three may not be the most popular, or even consistent, it is sometimes my favorite. Pull a good dozen episodes as the pillar of what this season could have been collectively and I am quite satisfied as that selection is watched often.

Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4