dyr #58 : Akira

Akira_1You my friend are like Bob Dylan. You are the spokesman (or perhaps spokes-anime?) of your generation. And such a fitting title to boot. Akira. It’s short, sweet, bold and makes you wonder what the movie is about? And for several years, if not a couple decades and change, I still ask myself this same question. And from all the viewings I have come to my own meaning since I am not all that familiar with the original manga. In any case, Akira stands as one of the quintessential definitions of what anime can become… huge, epic, thought provoking and awesome red motorcycles. For many otaku of a certain generation here in the west, it stands as one of the first anime that either: a) made us anime fans or b) solidified our love of Japanese animation to a level we had no idea that could be reached or even existed.

Akira_2Epic, sublime and down right dangerous… this is the world of Neo-Tokyo in the aftermath of a devastating war. Politicians and the military try to fight for power to control the masses and yet let the society kind of deteriorate at the process while they greedily grab cash and power at any quick moment. Remember the scene where the counsel member who tried to escape with his briefcase of money only to die in an alley from a heart attack? And it is in and on these streets that have gone to waste we find our main characters. They are street punks, juvenile delinquents, who ride motorcycles and fight rival gangs. And two of them will be our heroes so to speak. A small, quiet, insecure yet angry young man named Tetsuo and a cocky self assured leader who has quite possibly one of the most iconic motorcycles to appear on any screen, Kaneda.

Akira_3Eventually these boys will come into contact with the military authorities and their lives will be changed forever. Either through contact with what looks like old children who have esper type abilities or perhaps awakening a power within himself (could it be possible to awake this in all of us?), Tetsuo begins his journey of becoming a power beyond control as he is carried off to be examined. The struggle begins now as Tetsuo, who only wants to be left alone, is constantly being controlled. And much like school shootings of recent history in our ‘real world’, Tetsuo is a textbook example of allowing a potentially good kid go bad. He is to blame for the eventual destruction he lays out on the city, but that blame belongs to us as well as we let potential young people rot away into self pity and depression. His responsibility is ours and ours is his.

Akira_4My view of Akira is that no matter the environment or circumstances, we are the creators or destroyers of our world be it within the confines of the body or what we perceive to be the outside world. The more we try to control the outside environment, others around us or use the gifts given to us to harm or disconnect us from the natural surroundings, we are doomed to failure. But from failure and destruction much like a phoenix, there is great potential to start again. All endings are beginnings and likewise all beginnings are endings (the constant cycle of life and time). It is how we adapt to these changes that will show the results.

Go big, or go home. Such is much of the work of original creator Katsuhiro Otomo, as all hell will break loose and get out of control if we allow the weeds to permeate the garden so to speak. Akira is also a hallmark of the quality of one of the best studios in Japan, TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsa). You can see this as an action film, a fluid piece of animation, or an allegory to what potential we have in all of us. I cannot deny the awesome power of what Akira is for me as a fan; it is required viewing to truly appreciate the power of what anime truly can express. No matter what, I will always cheer GO! GO! Akira! 

…Now I need to find a dealership that has Kaneda’s bike. Any idea what make or model it is?

dyr #56 : Genesis Climber Mospeada

mospeada_1Long ago, and yet supposedly set in the early 21st century, a band of six individuals bonded together out of fate to be a resistance squad to fight against an alien invasion. And what a rag tag group as it shows you never know who your friends will be. But at it’s heart Genesis Climber Mospeada is a mecha show with a unique transforming concept. And like the name of Mospeada being a type of motorcycle, this show has been around with me for a long, long ride. Strap on your helmets, we are about to head out on the open road.

mospeada_2As for the unique concept mentioned earlier, I have always enjoyed the gimmick of the motorcycle becoming wearable mecha armor. IT’S SO TOTALLY COOL! I remember the first time I saw the so-called transformation way back when and I said in awe, “Whoa… that’s different… I LIKE IT!” Of course this may not be the first time it happened in anime, I have no proof of what was first, but the idea would repeat itself in Megazone 23 (another favorite of mine). Of course both of these shows featured the mech designs of Shinji Aramaki, who would later become a director of a couple CGI movie adaptations that fell flat for me.

mospeada_3Our story begins with Stick (I liked the mistranslated Stig as well) Bernard, a young pilot coming from Mars who is part of a military unit intent on reclaiming Earth after the invasion of the Inbit. Tragically after being shot down by the Inbit’s insect like mechs, Stick finds himself alone as the lone survivor of the failed mission. In typical military fashion, he continues on to find the Inbit’s main headquarters of Reflex Point. But along the way he would gain allies: a desert rat scrounger (Ray), a crybaby kid (Mint), a hot shot blonde with skills (Houquet), a cowardly, but dependable mechanic (Jim) and a lounge singer who turns out to be a soldier who uses the singing act as a matter of hiding out from the Inbit (Yellow, the first individual I ever saw who pushed gender). These six gain camaraderie by pursuing Stick’s goal of finding Reflex Point and finding others who are willing to fight for the cause.

mospeada_4One aspect that makes this show great is the fact that to me at least it feels like a western. Our cast are like strangers that come into a town every episode and while each episode is it’s own story it builds towards the whole of the totality. It’s one of those solid series that works for me on a personal level and is one of those shows that has three distinct reasons that make it shine. One is that it is a product of that fabled studio known as Tatsunoko, you got to love the tradition (Speed Racer to Gatchaman, to production on Macross and Evangelion). Two, the character designer Yoshitaka Amano. Not the lilting gothic look most of us are used to, but still the same quality. And of course the music is by old Joe… Joe Hisaishi. The soundtrack is more rock and jazz compared to his grand work with Hayao Miyazaki’s films, but still memorable.

mospeada_5Now to compare to Robotech: The New Generation, I actually have a slight favoritism toward the Americanized adaptation (let me explain). Not saying it is better by any means and I am not flying a flag on stating the original is the measuring stick to follow either. Some of the story development I just preferred in the Robotech version and I can point to two direct points. One, Yellow Belmont (Lancer) was voiced by only one person, a male. True he has the dual gender identity, but keep it honest with the singular voice, just slightly changed. Yellow can rock a dress, but he is an androgynous man , ‘The Lonely Solider Boy’ (just better consistenancy). And two, the character and saga of Rainy Boy (Dusty Ayres). His revenge story in Robotech seemed more interesting than just being a mercenary working along with the Inbit to win back his freedom. Definitely one of my favorite anti-hero characters of all time; tragic, yet powerful.

I often think that the initial anime you are exposed to leaves the most indelible marks on you as you progress into fandom. Some you may out grow due to aging or peer pressure, some you may continue to grow into your first experiences and some you end up trying it on again to find it still works the same as before. Mospeada has always been a strong contender in my book and I am sticking with you till the sun sets in the west for the final time. Long may you run Mospeada… long may you run.

dyr #55 : Venus Wars

VW_1You and me go back quite a ways, eh Venus Wars? True story… I introduced a couple of my friends in high school to Robotech and eventually they would become a little bitten with the anime bug. I can’t say for sure of where they are today as I have not seen them in quite a while, but one of them ended up getting Venus Wars on that old standard we all loved a long time ago called, VHS. I remembered it as a good film and oddly enough it would be one of those properties that acted as a bridge between my early years of initiation and my later years of being a hard corps classic otaku. I just got a copy on Blu-Ray and re-watched it for the first time in HD. Do I still find Venus Wars enjoyable?

VW_2So apparently in the future (2003 ah what a year) a comet collides with Venus and over a short period of time. The second planet from the sun becomes habitable, though life is difficult. Farms don’t yield the prospects that politicians promised and in due time tensions heighten between the nations of Aphrodia and Ishtar. Now enter our main cast… the first being a group of young bike racers and their entourage called the Killer Commandoes who compete in a sport mixing traditional racing with more contact and rough house like Roller Derby and the second, a spunky reporter arriving from Earth to get the scoop on an impending war. And just like that Ishtar invades invades Aphrodia exciting our reporter, Miss Susan Summers, and shocking our bikers and crew: Hiro, Maggie, Will, Jack, Miranda (I love you Miranda!) and the grizzled team manager Gary. Soon Miss Summers will come into contact with the Commandoes and there first order of business is to get rid of one of Ishtar’s tanks at their beloved stadium.

VW_3So… let me sum up the rest of Venus Wars with one name, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Venus Wars looks like a YAZ show, it acts like a YAZ show, so I have to love it (Yeah for YAZ!). The director and character designer of the likes of Crusher Joe, Giant Gorg and Arion (and don’t forget he was character designer of the original Gundam), Venus Wars would be his final work within the frame of animation until the adaptation of his recent more manga, Gundam: The Origin. This film is based off of his manga (no surprise), which from peaking at a couple of chapters, seems to be a little different. Hmm? No problem though. Venus Wars is kind of a mix of Gundam with Akira. Hiro, our main protagonist, is similar to Amuro Ray, though I have to give more credit to his ‘character’ to that of Zeta Gundam’s Kamille Bidan. He has a major chip on his shoulder.

My only gripe on this movie is that it ends oddly for me. Our hero Hiro (is that a pun?) is active in the deciding battle and from what I can tell this was the only battle he was in? Then he gets honored by his unit and is let go to find his friends (which ends up with him reuniting with girlfriend Maggie) all the while enjoying a music sequence of him riding around. To be honest, I should get off my high horse, but it just seemed like a bit of an elongated finish after the climax that seemed to have come a little too soon. I will now retreat from the soapbox.

VW_4As I mentioned earlier my first exposure to this movie was at a friends house back when on VHS. A few years later when I was in a small town stopping at a video rental store (do you remember these?) I came across a used copy of the original DVD release by Central Park Media. It had been a while since I saw the movie and it was on my mind for some reason. Then lo and behold it was in front of me. Fast forward to a month ago and purchasing the new Blu-Ray release and wow how it looks pretty. Maybe no where near say an Akira, Wings of Honneamise, or Patlabor: The Movie, but it is very fine indeed for a fun action flick. Look at all the pretty colors 🙂 Nothing beats hand drawn animation!

You and me have been together quite a while, eh Venus Wars. Motorcycles, war, young people coming of age, action and all on the planet Venus to top it off. You may not be the best movie of all time, but who cares, you are a fun ride still today as ever. Venus Wars, you have been a loyal companion, may we ride again in the future.

…also to all my Studio Ghibli fans… you know Joe Hishashi right? Well the soundtrack to Venus Wars was composed by none other than him. How about them apples?

dyr #2 : Bobby’s Girl/Bobby’s in Deep

Some people say they don’t make ’em like they used to. Often times this is a grossly exaggerated lament to lost youth thinking that what is out today will always be inferior to your own great days of youth. And with anime, yes in some ways it is not like how it used to be. Gone are hand drawn cels, the old men from previous generations, the freshness of ideas or brands not being recycled and the use of longer drawn out stories particularly on television. But for one production, Bobby’s Girl, it will never be like it was, be it before or since.

BG4Bobby’s Girl could just be another OVA from 1985 and if you believe that you need to see this production again. Much like Angel’s Egg or Robot Carnival, Bobby’s Girl is an arthouse masterpiece of the era. But where the previous two are like fine art hanging in a gallery, Bobby’s Girl speaks to something more primal, raw and emotional. I can only attune it to a well played blues song. It’s a lament, a statement of feeling only the likes that a great musician can pour from his or her chosen instrument. You feel it in your soul and if you have a dry eye at the end, I have to question your humanity especially when the cover of the Marcie Blane song also named Bobby’s Girl plays over the end credits.

BG2The motorcycle has always been a symbol of rebellion. And why not, more often than not it is usually built for  one individual to ride. It becomes an extension of it’s rider and that rider can fly like the wind on only two wheels. Very similar to the lone anti-hero on a horse in a western. And Bobby (Akihito Nomura is his real name) is our lone anti-hero and his only only passion is riding motorcycles. He does not get along with his family, his father in particular is very hard on him being a bit of a “slacker”. But instead of being a cocked and loaded loudmouth Bobby is very aloof. His only drive is to just follow his interest, which he does to the chagrin of his family leading him to being kicked out of his home. Thus, he is left to fend for his own survival. Also highlighted in the story is an article from a magazine that featured our protagonist. He receives letters because of this article from a certain young lady who has a keen attraction towards him. Our hero has a fan, an admirer, maybe a potential love interest who likes him for him. But as a “freebird” does he really realize that he has someone who is watching out for him?

BG3The story is only one element of this production. The artwork, on the other hand, can almost be seen as the true star.  Mishmashing brief moments of teenage culture that can be seen in American Graffiti with the Pop Art movement of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, or high quality pencil sketches, into the current culture of 1980s Japan. Not that the entire production is experimental, it is those moments that break from the usual that make it special. This experimental nature makes this one of the many productions that can be considered an animators playhouse and a part of a handful of unique productions of the era that I stated before. Madhouse has always created quality work, but this one… wow. Thank you all for something beautiful.

This is one that is not very easy to come across, nor is it mentioned much in conversation. You have to track down this one, but unfortunately the only source I have found has video quality that is a little subpar. But like Citizen Kane on VHS vs. a generic big budget popcorn flick on 4K/HDR/Bluray/Hi-hi-hi definition, which is the better movie or experience? Quality always shines through limitation, but will you give it a try?