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 #54 : Neo-Tokyo

Short collections are always welcome in my world. Anime often becomes a system of stereotypes… Shonen fighters, magical girls, mecha, Ghibli films. All are great, but is this all that there is to Japanese anime? And of course the answer is absolutely not. There is always something of an alternative. Something more artsy, a little bizarre and uniquely it’s own thing. Art for arts sake and without compromise. A true hallmark of that awesome studio known as Madhouse, welcome to the trilogy Manie-Manie Labyrinth Tales, better known here in the west as Neo-Tokyo.

NT_1We begin with my personal favorite, The Labyrinth. Directed by Rintaro, this a feast of visual delight. Rintaro has always been known for being excessive with visuals to the point that what you are watching becomes more important that the story itself. The story is simple here, an imaginative girl who while playing with her lost and found cat gets sucked into a surreal psychedelic ‘labyrinth’ that leads to a circus via a clock. It just goes to show, watch the invitation you receive from Pierrot-type clowns around grandfather styled clocks. I don’t know if this segment has a meaning or point and I don’t care. It’s pure Rintaro and often when I watch his work I just want to bask in it like a painting in a museum. Plus having the music of Erik Satie is a plus for me 🙂

NT_2The second part known as The Running Man is perhaps the most recognized of the trilogy. I believe this had some play on MTV back in the day and it was in the promotional material of Streamline Pictures. This film looks and feels like its creator, Yoshiyaki Kawajiri. He is best known for a lot of seinen action, think Ninja Scroll, but you cannot deny his talent as a character designer. Top notch, meticulous detail exudes in this tale about a reporter who has followed an unbeatable professional racer throughout his career. How has this man survived for so long in this dangerous sport and how long will he last at the top? The action is fast paced, but the sections where it feel that time or movement slows to a grinding halt is where the real drama begins.

NT_3Now to the final segment, I present Construction Cancelation Order. I can sum this one up with one name, Katsuhiro Otomo. It’s Mr. Akira essentially and yes this is a tale where the societal conditions have gone wrong, except this one has a bit more humor. A nerdy salaryman inspector is to visit a construction site in the remote region of South America to essentially shut it down. And that is a tall order as the machines have total control of the situation. And even though the site is in effect falling apart at the seams and abandoned, the worker robots still continue as programmed. Can our faithful inspector do anything to stop this insanity, or is their a way to just get out alive? This reminds me a lot of Otomo’s later work Roujin Z where he shows how letting technology thrive to solve our everyday problem without a safety net can bring disaster and a chuckle or two.

Hold on… we are going back to the first segment again to finish off as a sort of coda. The labyrinth doors closes… The end. Lets gives a round of applause for our three directors everyone.

NT_4So… what does this trilogy of shorts have to do with a title like Neo-Tokyo? Honestly, I can’t see one, except… except that it was most likely borrowed from that contemporary hit film, Akira. As stated, Akira was a license to print money here in the west back in the early 1990s and it’s creator and director Katsuhiro Otomo was associated with the film right off the bat. I am sure the consensus was… we need to find more work that features this guy to cash in on this Akira trend. And of course Neo-Tokyo was prime for the taking as there was not much else out at the time that had Otomo’s name as director on it. Too bad this film is nothing like Akira and that is neither good, nor bad.

A distant cousin to another all time favorite of mine, the beautiful Robot Carnival, Neo-Tokyo is for me darker and perhaps more streamlined. Helmed by three of Japan’s best directors and produced at Madhouse, Neo-Tokyo stands as one of the best examples of how far Japan stretched animation in the 1980s. I often have forgotten about how unique this one was in the past, but that is true no more.

dyr #53 : Science Ninja Team Gatchaman

I have never got the whole idea of the American superhero. Batman and some of X-Men are OK, but the way our media over here has portrayed ‘heroes’ has left me a little flat… i.e. Superman. Now, I love this stuff from Japan, what if they only had something to offer? Oh wait, they do? Lots of options you say. OK then, how about a sentai task force that wears thigh high boots? After all superheroes wear only calf high boots, BORING! So what do we have to watch kids? How about Science Ninja Team Gatchaman? Bird… GO!

GM_1Gatchaman is one of the oldest series to have influence here in the west. Maybe not to the caliber of say Speed Racer, but for those of you who saw the original Stars Wars film in theaters during 1977, you were in for a surprise. The next year, we would get an adaptation known as Battle of the Planets and with all the Hanna Barbara-esque edits, the original essense of Tatsunoko’s work could still be seen. Much the same way in how I viewed Voltron back in the those innocent days of the mid 1980s. And it would be the mid 80s that G-Force Defenders of Space, another Gatchaman adaptation would grace us here in the west. And being that both of these adaptations were during the so-called wild west period of bringing animation over from Japan, a cult following would emerge for the bird costumed quintet.

GM_2As a kid and teenager I mistakingly thought when looking at the show that, “…hey! This is a copycat of Voltron.” I can’t blame my ignorance at the time, but how was a to know that Gatchaman (1972) beat out the like of Beast King GoLion (1981) by a decade. Of course, I know better now. It was Gatchaman itself that would lay the groundwork for the sentai team esthestic that would influence everything from Super Sentai/Power Rangers to mecha shows like Combattler V, Voltes V and GoLion and even shojo magical girls like say… Sailor Moon. Though previously you had titles that featured a team, like say Cyborg 009, Gatchaman would simplify the principle.

GM_3And that principle is the stock and trade quintet: The strong leader (Ken), The rebel (Joe), The cute girl (Jun), the kid (Junpei) and the big guy (Ryu). How many times have we seen this combo? I know I have, maybe it has been modified slightly for whatever show, but that is the standard. Everyone brings their individual strength towards the greater group. So the question has to be, why does this Gatchaman team exist? As created by Dr. Nambu with the aid of modern technology and ninja skills, the purpose of The Gatchaman Team is to bring down the evil organization determined to rule the world… Cobra? No, no, that’s G.I. Joe. Try again… how about Galactor? Yeah that’s the way. And with the leadership of the androgynous Berg Katse and the mysterious Leader X, how will Galactor attempt to foil Gatchaman this week?

Getting back to the beginning in regards to American superheroes, I can’t deny they are an influence on this creation by Tatsunoko Studios. But also tokusatsu/special effects shows of say Ultraman and the idea of being a ninja warrior bring a Japanese spin onto an American invention. Super powers are out, but being skilled, silent and quick are in. Also having a very groovy taste in both fashion and music. This was 1972 after all and the hippie aesthetic was still strong. And that theme song, which was the original ending credits music, is one of the best openings I have ever heard. It simply rocks and in typical seventies fashion it features a brass section, loud guitar and a driving beat.

GM_4So why do I enjoy Gatchaman? Well, why not? The premise is simple and fun and at times repetitive. Ken is not a complete goodie-goodie and has issues regarding the whereabouts of his father. Joe, is the prototypical lone wolf, but he is very endearing and his demise by the end of the show brought tears to my eyes. Berg Katse is an interesting villain with a secret of his own. The quality of the animation for it’s day is very fluid and the use of special effects like lighting (with a spot light no less) and explosions (sometimes with psychedelic like liquids) are handled in ways you don’t see in anime today. It was one of those shows that called out to me and I had to answer to it because after all. we all need heroes to look up to from time to time.

Sometimes they are five, sometimes only one; the white shadow that stalks close to the heart on my sleeve known as the love of anime. They are the Science Ninja Team and they totally belong my collection shelf.

dyr #52 : Ai City

“Everything today is a bargain sale of imitations. That’s why they’re after something real.”

I have an odd attraction to something that leans a little to the bizarre and artsy in anime. I love classics like Angel’s Egg and more modern fair like Mawaru Penguindrum. I also love psychedelia music, art and film be it the original stuff from the 1960s or works that draw from it’s influence from decades later. But what I really like is a). style and b). expression. And Ai City is all of this and something more and to be honest the ending still makes me scratch my head. I LIKE IT!

AC_1Let us consider a cyberpunk atmosphere that could be the future and yet looks like the present moment, whatever that present may be when you are reading this. Kind of like Akira, but instead of the Blade Runner-esque darkness and political intrique… well leave a little of that in for good measure… we need something a little more lets say 1980s and fun. Lets add in a discotheque feel and bright colors that invade into this dark climate. Now we are prepared for this 1986 film. And of course, throw in the fact that a majority of our main cast are espers with as the awesome song in the movie called A Psychik Man. It says… “he’s got super psychic powers.”

AC_2The film begins with a chase between a bike gang who is headed by a pretty lady known as K2. They are chasing our main group of heroes in a car with our main man K driving (he gave the awesome quote at the beginning). His passengers are Ai, or is it I?, who apparently is a clone of K’s former girlfriend, but is younger in age and calls K Papa (?). And in the back seat we have a bumbling drunk detective named Raiden (comic relief) and a big old fluffy cat. Yeah for cats! Needless to say K and K2 meet up and we see how these two espers, or headmeters, charge up and fight. Not so much super saiyan style like in Dragon Ball Z, but they have these gauges in their head that change number amounts. Just watch out if they reach infinity.

AC_3K and Ai have escaped from the confines of an organization named Fraud and K2 is one of their lackeys. After the confrontation between K and K2, K2 disappears and comes back with a state of amnesia and she ends up wearing a Playboy bunny type costume and goes gaga over ohjisama Raiden. No lie to that, its that off the hook! The leader of Fraud, the menacing Lee (this dude reminds me of some offhand villain from Space Adventure Cobra) is having none of it and dispenses more lackays, one a bishounen named Mr. J to recapture Ai. And I will leave it at that because this is a movie that needs to be seen to believe. I have only describes the first third or so so just when you are about to get near the end be ready for an all-out artsy fartsy, off the wall, psychedelic experiences put to celluloid. Everything can and will fall apart. Now see what happens afterward.

AC_4The title itself makes me wonder… which one is my correct assumption for what it means? Of course one of the character names is Ai, which in Japanese means love. So ‘love city’ and could this girl named Ai/‘love‘ be the ultimate meaning of this movie? The idea that love and manifesting one’s happiness and not forgetting that primal emotion could be the key to all of life. Also, and I am no scholar in this area, but in that little book known as the Bible, in the Book of Joshua, there is a city that is captured and destroyed named Ai. And yes, at the end of the film, literally, all hell breaks loose. Or, could it mean Ai as in I, like your ego and watching that come crumbling down to rebuild a new self in case you have a faulty view of yourself and the world? These are a few of my interpretations and many are kind of deep. Maybe I should watch it again because I could be still missing something.

Fluid animation, a fun soundtrack and a stellar lineup of voice actors make this oddity a huge winner in my book. That and once you get to the ending. guess what? We basically start all over again from the beginning. For real? … yeah. Ai City may be out there and different, but it is never, ever boring. And to get back to the beginning, you remember that quote? Ai City ain’t no imitation, it’s FOR REAL!

dyr #48 : Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross

Oddly enough, even though The Masters section of Robotech was a little convoluted, I always loved it. It was the characters plain and simple and their relationships. Also how a rag tag bunch of odd balls, a strong trio of female protagonists and an angsty guy who wants revenge turned from a semi-fun sci-fi mecha show into an epic tragedy where there was no clear winner was a breath of fresh air (Ideon did a similar feat, but that was years down the road for me). Of course the Americanized adaptation acted as a bridge between the original Macross and Genesis Climber Mospeada, but what about Southern Cross as it’s own independent story without shoehorning the odd glue of Robotech’s definition of protoculture?

SoCr_1Humanity has expanded out towards the stars and has settled a planet (wow, never heard that one before) named Gloire. On this planet we have a group of military defenders who keep watch  (again, never heard that one before)and one of those fine soldiers is in the brig and is about to be released and taking her place is her lady killer squad leader (NOW, thats different!). Jeanne Francais, our former prisoner, is a bit of a free spirit and occasionally a trouble maker, so it makes sense she is now head of the Tactical Armored Corps 15th Squadron. I love anime logic 🙂 But of course she would be brought back into the brig again while doing what she does best, like knocking over a military police robot. And while all this fun is happening an alien fleet approaches our peaceful planet. Peace time is now over.

Amidst the fun and antics, there is an honest serious military drama with an alien invasion. These invaders, The Zor, are eager to return to Gloire as this was their former home world. A war erupts and in this show we get a unique type of robot, the Spartan. A hovering tank that transforms into a robot. Nice touch. This is the main mecha for our girl Jeanne, but how does it fair against the Zor’s main machine, the Bioroid? And in particular a ‘red’ version… wait a red one? This reminds me of Mobile Suit Gundam for some reason? Hmm?

SoCr_2Complimenting Jeanne are two more strong ladie, who are the direct opposite in personality and method. Marie Angel is a hot shot pilot and Lana Isavia is one of the military police’s strict officers. Totally new for mecha anime at the time, these girl’s set a standard for having girl power in a robot show. THANK YOU! Joining Jeanne as well are her squad mates including tech guru Louis, ‘Casanova’ Charles, grumpy Andrzej and sensitive Bowie; plus General Rolf Emerson and a mystery man who is a captured and put under the watchful eye of Jeanne, Seifriet.  And with Seifriet, the story really begins to ramp up in intensity as well as Jeanne’s fluttering heart for her crush on Mr. Longhair.

SoCr_3And now for something a little different, what of pop culture references? Oh they exist as well. Such as when the 15th Squadron elbowed their way into a downed Zor ship and eventually getting caught into a large trash reservoir. And guess what? The walls are moving together. Sounds like one of those famous scenes from Star Wars: A New Hope. Yet I liked this one a little more as Jeanne gets a little trigger happy and all her boys and her have to deal with a ricocheting laser blast. And all that background music, I wonder if that once popular band known as the Police ever heard what Japan released. True it sounds very much like the Police’s 1983 album Synchronicity, in particular the title tracks Synchronicity I and II, that I wonder if Sting himself wrote this soundtrack.

SoCr_4When the original shows that made up Robotech eventually got a domestic release, Southern Cross would be the first one I got. Perhaps it was the cheapest at the moment, or maybe I was extra curious to see how this uncut tale actually unfolded? Again it like reading the original novel to a major motion picture and you find the details you had been searching for. Some are not too keen on Southern Cross as a series, but I can’t help but enjoy it because it has been around me for so long. Plus this series has made me a fan of character designer Tomonori Kogawa’s work.

If only this show did not have a short run, who knows what could have happened. As for what we got, and in particular the ending, I am more than satisfied (Yoshiyuki Tomino did you work on this?). Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, you will always be one of my dark house favorites.

dyr #47 : Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh

Fast fact… the opening sequence to the first episode of Dangaioh is awesome. WHOA talk about a whole lot of fun crammed into about three and a half minutes. This may be my favorite anime of what I call popcorn entertainment… sit down and have a blast with no strings attached and to be honest, no real sense of depth beyond what you see is what you get. Dangaioh takes what was fun about super robot mecha from the 1970s and early 1980s and injects it with a dose of higher octane fuel and sprinking in a little esper super hero as the topping on the cake. Be ready to “Cross Fight” because I want to talk about Hyper Combat Unit Dangaioh.

Dangaioh_1It’s time to separate from the uber serious space opera and so-called real robot genere of mecha and return to something more fundamental and basic. I view Dangaioh the same way as I view punk rock in that regard. And while pomp and circumstance of “big stadium acts” or “progressive rock” like titles of say Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross, or Ideon are very much beloved by me, I also find a relief in something simpler, harder and faster. Enter Dangaioh into the mix and I go… “Yeah lets ROCK!” But keep it simple and fun without over bloating it… like say contemporary action films of Hollywood.

Dangaioh_2In the process of the intro we meet our team of heroes who will pilot the Dangaioh machine. We begin with sensitive and level headed Mia Alice, crybaby and cheerleader Lamba Nom, hot headed Pai Thunder and Roll Kran, who is basically the useless guy. Wait a minute… three girls and one dude? That may be more common today, but for the 1980s that was something new. Usually it was the reverse with only one girl in a group of boys. Needless to say these four have been enhanced with esper qualities of various difference and their main purpose is to be sold to the “Banker” a pirate named, Garimoth, much to the chagrin of the jealous Gil Berg (who eventually sells out because why not, he wants to be the king of the group after all). Needless to say our four  heroes realize they are individuals and go against this predetermined destiny. Freewill wins!

Dangaioh_3And the fun starts from there. And over a period of three episodes we enter a “bad guy of the week” type of format. Again reminiscent of early days of mecha, Go Nagai would be proud to see the pendulum swing back towards a more simple approach to mecha. But, that is not to say it is completely elementary. The story at time digs deep into character psychology and in many cases backstory since our heroes are trying to rediscover who they really are. The artwork is awesome as well. As a fan of Toshiro Hirano’s style, it oozes with his certain touch of character design as well as overall direction. Plus, this has great mecha designs and ideas from Koichi Ohata. Nice to see that man’s skills as an artist than say a director, MD Geist anyone?

Dangaioh_4For those of us in the U.S., Dangaioh along with Gunbuster would be the first Japanese animation released subtitled on that old glorious format of VHS. Thank you U.S. Renditions for making this happen and it is sad you are not around today still releasing anime. These three tapes are collectors items for sure for some of us, including myself, but could you imagine purchasing one episode for about $30. And on VHS to boot, not say Blu-Ray or some other high definition source. How times and the market have changed.

Could it have been more than just only the three episodes? True there was that Great Dangaioh TV series, but nothing for the original. And that is fine, because why keep milking a story to death? Seriously, sometimes a great band may release an album or two and then move on to other personal projects. Dangaioh is very much the same. Rock on forever Dangaioh as we rise our lighters to the air for you. I will love ya till the end of time.

dyr #46 : Black Magic M-66

BMM66_1You know what I love about the OVA format? In particular, the ones that came out in the mid-1980s… besides it was an awesome time for creativity… it is the fact you would get miniature one offs that were self contained. Under an hour was all the investment you had to give, which come on everyone, that’s not much time. And these were not promotions for a bigger project. These were the real deal and short and sweet. Masamune Shirow, known well for Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, would get his first anime adaptation in 1987’s Black Magic M-66. The rest they say is history.

BMM66_2Upon watching this one-off I am sure one thing will pop up in your mind. HEY NOW! This is very reminiscent of The Terminator. I am sure I am not the first to proclaim this, but it oozes the killer machine on the run, just not with Arnold Schwarzenegger stating, “I’ll be back.” This time we have a female bodied android and she is many times more dangerous and deadly. After a military plane crashes into an unassuming forest we find that two of these M-66s have escaped. Thus the military is hot on the trail along with guerilla reporter Sybel, who is our protagonist. Eventually one of the M-66’s gets taken down, but the other would find it’s way into the big city. And it’s target… I leave that to you to find out. There is no point spoiling this story.

BMM66_3…One thing I will say, wait for the scene in the elevator with Sybel fighting off the M-66. Well maybe not fight… more like, trying to stay at least one step ahead of this robot. This OVA may not have had the biggest budget, but the effect of turning and perspective in that tight space was impressive. I give you props AIC, even though most everyone else seems to give more attention to the other sibling you also produced in 1987, something called Bubblegum Crisis. Now back to our main content…

BMM66_4I will give this OVA three things that it does very well. First, as stated previously, it’s about 45 minutes long. And while it is a clone of cheesy action sci-fi adventure, it does not overdue it with a lot of Hollywood grandeur. It is like a compact sports car; a fun ride that does not get in the way. Second, props to making our main protagonist a tough lady. And being a Shirow work, she is in top shape and can take care of herself. I actually prefer Sybel more than Ghost in the Shell’s Major Kusanagi, because she is all too human and at times makes a mistake. And as mistakes are made I come to the third reason, that of humor. This show takes itself seriously to a minor point and that point is often broken because after all, this is a fun show. The is often the case with Shirow’s manga and I think the adaptations of Ghost in the Shell in particular paint Shirow as too dark. Au contraire. I often wonder if a lot of Shirow’s work is intentional satire.

As a beloved early staple of the VHS era, Black Magic M-66 has fallen out of favor and is often like that rare first album by a band that is passed over due to higher caliber releases that followed in the wake. It’s worth at least one view and maybe a second if you browse through a collection and say, “Well… this is a quickie. Why not?”

dyr #45 : Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

Whether in the afterworld or someplace else, the soul that used to inhabit this cold shell is probably not at peace. And further out there is a green planet… ” … I love that intro and yes I love this show. While I often think you can never go beyond an original, this is a big exception. This is not a sequel, nor a followup to Mobile Suit GundamMobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a melancholic ride of intensity that can never be topped.

ZG_1For me Zeta Gundam is the pinnacle of Gundam. I have not seen every Gundam series and to be honest I don’t know how I can. This show left a mark on me that I cannot shake even now. At it’s best it might be the most brutal and passionate tale of epic space opera mecha. The aftermath of ZZ Gundam and then Char’s Counterattack left me disappointed as I felt the story had no where else to go, or just didn’t go anywhere. Zeta Gundam, for me, was the top of what mecha once was and became. Even watching mecha related shows from later decades that take on the direct seriousness and drama, for me, are more cookie cutter or fall flat with being a bit too much for what it is (Evangelion is an exception, but that is it’s own brillance).

ZG_2When I first watched Zeta I had no idea what was going on and this was due to the fact that I had zero exposure to the Universal Century timeline. I watched almost a third of the show and proclaimed I had to go back a little further to make some sense of all this. Once I got around to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and digested all there was I was in much better shape. I would come back to Zeta and digested the first half this time with glee and joy. I would eventually purchase the second half and, no lie, watched the final 25 episodes in what was possibly one of the greatest endurance runs of my life. In the span of a day and a half I would finish that second half and my life was never the same.

ZG_3Zeta takes place about eight years after the original series and for me the real draw is our new protagonist. I love Kamille Bidan. Some say he is troubled, maybe autistic. It may be that, but his confusion and angst mixed with raw ability hit very close to almost looking in the mirror. I get this guy, totally get this guy. Also with the reintroductions of Char Aznable… I mean Quattro Bajenna (love those shades dude), Amuro Ray (who I still find it hard to believe had a back seat role in this chapter), Bright Noa (welcome back captain) and most of the other members of the White Base crew makes everything proper and tidy. And with a plethora of many more new characters in this series as well, it is sad to say that a minority live to the end. Many tears have I shed over and over again over the loss of so many folks including the troubled Four Murasume and the brilliant Emma Sheen.

ZG_4Now I want to discuss the ending. How do you describe it… kind of like a car accident? All that heavy action and movement, which breaks to a moment of reflection and confusion which seems to stand still. Where am I, why do I feel in shock that I can’t even talk, what just happened? How sad to watch our protagonist, Kamille, once filled with such passion and drive become nothing more than a confused shell. And that is our finale. Cut… done. That’s it? Yup and somehow even though many call it a downer and open ended ending, I find it beyond satisfying. This is not some wrapped up in a bow Hollywood every one wins and smiles at the end kind of ending. This is a close the book, take a breathe and sighing out type of ending. You have to take some time to process what has just occurred and not just only the ending, but the whole show as an entirety. And because of the need of this processing, it stays with you. LIKE GLUE!

Zeta Gundam… a product of it’s time, a pinnacle of a generation and a classic for all time. One of my all time favorites now and forever.