dyr #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 special. 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.

 

dyr #27 : The Rose of Versailles

rov1I’ve got my cake and I am eating it too! The French Revolution was a time of insanity. Political overthrow, bloodshed and ideals permeated the landscape of 18th century France. Fast forward to 1970s Japan, mangaka Riyoko Ikeda would pen a story of love, politics and gender identity into this historic environment. Historically accurate, hardly, but a passionate soap operatic historic shojo masterpiece, indeed. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité live on forever and ever in The Rose of Versailles.

rov2The house of de Jarjayes is expecting a child. This military family of the commander of the Royal Guard expects, no, demands a son, but alas a beautiful baby girl is delivered instead. In haste General de Jarjayes demands that this child be raised as a boy instead, after all a male heir is crucial. This child christened Oscar Francois de Jarjayes (say it three times fast, isn’t French a sexy language? L’amour!) is our heroine and by the time she comes of age she becomes the guard for a future future queen of France, Marie Antoniette (a.k.a. spoiled brat). Who says being born into nobility or privilege is an advantage? There is always a price.

rov3Oscar without question has too be one of, if not the most honored, strongest and most well rounded female characters in anime or otherwise. And beautiful as well… flaunt that hair. And with issues as well, being forced to be a man, when she is definitely a woman and has natural feminine tendencies that cannot be repressed. Trans peeps you know what I am talking about! One of my favorite moments that highlight this idea was when Oscar went to a ball and rid herself of the military uniform to wear a gorgeous gown and have all her hair done up. She looked damn good, I remember cheering at the top of my lungs… Go girl go! And she stole the show at the ball and yet no one knew it was Oscar. After all Oscar is just a boyish soldier… yeah hardly.

rov4And of course there has to be love interests. The first being her childhood friend, a commoner, André. Now these two are one good looking couple, imagine the children if things could have been. Andre is genuine, honest and always supportive to the woman he loves. Contrast this to ‘Mr. Captain von Handsome’ himself (I need to trademark that), the blonde Swede aristocrat who also has feelings for Madame Oscar as well, Hans Axel von Ferson (actually a real person as well). He is also a decent soul, but the dude needs to decide Oscar or Ms. Antoniette (brat). Of course he has pedigree over André, but where does Oscar stand? You going with the nice country boy or the sophisticated suave dude?

rov5Production was done by the awesome TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) and two directors held the high post of being in charge. Tadao Nagahama, who is noted for the Robot Romance Trilogy (great mecha!), began the series and in traditional fashion told a very straight forward and emotional story. Sadly at about half way through production, he would succumb to a fatal case of hepatitis leaving the director’s chair to go to one of the masters, Osamu Dezaki. With more intense lighting, triple takes and pastel stills in hand (all signature to Dezaki) the show became even more dramatic all the way to the tragic ending.  Osamu Dezaki equals genius (can you tell I am a fan?). From start to finish it is 40 episodes of win; a soap opera turned up to 11. All those who are nice get a little pushed over by those who are a bit too arrogant. Madame du Barry I am looking at you! I looked up bitch in the dictionary and there was a portrait of her… no surprise 😉

For those of you in Europe I am envious that you got this show amongst many others as well back in ye olden days. Icon may be the best word to describe The Rose of Versailles. But also yardstick as well. No show can equal it before or after and true there have been elements borrowed in other shows, but it’s not The Rose of Versailles. Great shojo or otherwise have to measure up to this gem. The Rose of Versailles est très belle et magnifique. J’temps beaucoups!

dyr # 19 : Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko

One thing hits my mind when I begin each watch of Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko… Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune. The gentle piano music that Yohko plays, at least to me, sounds very similar to the dreamy and romantic Debussy classic. Our young heroine is in love and is totally crushing on a boy she wants to share her feelings with. As she plays on, she says that this music reflects the love in her heart and will give her the strength she needs to expose her affection. What a way to start an anime!

leda1With music in hand via a recording being played on tape via a Walkman (ah nostalgia) Yohko walks down a road to see her beau. And as they both approach the anxiety builds. They both pass by and all is silent. In disappointment our heroine sighs, she just couldn’t say it. OK now we need something exciting… how about we do a shojo cliche? The surface begins to melt away and she is soon sucked into a weird teleportation where she confronts an evil looking bishounen asking for Leda’s heart. She refuses and cries out to vanish and then soon appear in a strange surreal land where her greatest adventure is about to begin. Sound familiar? Much like Escaflowne, Magic Knight Rayearth, Twelve Kingdoms, or a number of other productions our heroine is about to have a sublime experience.

leda2An experience where she encounters baddies, a short friend, a cool mech that looks kind of like something from Castle in the Sky, Mr. bishounen again and she transforms to gain powers and a sword while rocking her red hair in a side ponytail (ah nostalgia… again). Oh and a talking dog too. I mean come on, who hasn’t seen a talking dog? Yohko never has apparently (note: if you never seen this, it is one of the funniest moments). I mean my cats, they talk, so what is the big deal? 😉 Sounds like a lot of magical girl standards and yet there is no magic wand and gibberish spoken within a stock transformation sequence. In the end what we have is a coming of age story mixed with the concepts of love, music, over coming fear and being honest to yourself. And… it’s a fun ride in the process.

leda3A production of my beloved Kaname Production, 1985’s Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko is one the studio’s best and is a hallmark of quality classic shojo (my opinion). Though it is a stock and trade story of the average high school school wisked away to become the ultimate hero in a foreign land, Yohko leaves it mark and is a favorite of my collection. Only released here in the U.S. on that good old format of VHS, I am honored that two copies of this rare release have found their way to me, sub and dub. In fact the dub was done by the same company and actors that did Macross: Do You Remember Love, if anyone has info on this company or actors please send it my way. I will be able to sleep better at night knowing this 😉 (strange, yet true?)

leda4What I find is how productions like Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko can get lost in the classic anime shuffle, but then again during ye olden days of fandom most fans were predominately male and I am sure if Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko was up against say Akira I am sure most of the ‘boys’ would have picked Akira (maybe?). Which is a shame because back then in regards to my personal exposure, when I thought of anime from the 1980s, shojo was not even on my radar. Times and circumstances have changed and now I have a treasure trove of stories that are not testosterone driven. And now with each new experience with older shojo titles I have something magical and fresh. Maybe I am saying something about myself? Even so, I love a strong female protagonist who is strong, independent and still feminine. Girl power for the win!

So now I will sum up Leda: Fantastic Adventure of Yohko with only one word… ADORABLE 🙂

afterthought: Hey Gurren Laggan fans! I wonder where Gainax got the idea for a bikini clad redhead named Yoko? Though missing an ‘h’ in the spelling the resemblance is close enough. What do you think?

dyr #14 : The Little Mermaid

This movie has been with me for a long, long time. In a previous posting I mentioned that this was one of my foundation anime that began everything that has led me to this point. To be honest at the time of this writing, I am dealing with a lot of unresolved issues throughout my life and I need something to help me give a good cry. Forget Grave of Fireflies, if I have a bad day and require to curl up in bed with a warm blanket and a lot of homemade popcorn and need some ‘comfort food’ I pull The Little Mermaid. True I can go with Windaria, or Farewell Space Battleship Yamato, but to be honest… the nostalgia runs very deep and when you have a feeling of being wounded, nostalgia feels beautiful.

lm1Lots of love always goes to Disney’s version. I remember when it was brand new in the theaters and eventually home video, rocking the VCR. Ariel defined a generation as Disney came back strong after years of releasing films that did not attach significantly with audiences. And that’s because films need to make a lot of money to be successful? In any case my sister was all over the Disney release. And I though now wait a minute, didn’t we see this years earlier? And it looked a lot better (anime art style bias on my part). That and Ariel gets to, in the end, win? WIN! Life happily ever after? Uh, Disney, did you read the source material at all? Did Hans Christian Andersen ever write a happy story? I am sure he did, but every one I have read sure goes with the standard I know well.

LM2.jpgI often think about how much trauma I was subjected to as a child from entertainment. Trauma may not be the right word, maybe a dose of reality outside of a rose tinted fantasy that we all at some time must face the tragic. Watership Down, the death of Optimus Prime and Marina’s final moment all left their mark or memory, but Marina’s is personal. To sacrifice one’s own life knowing that you can never make the other person return the love that one has for another is quite moving. Not to the same extent, but sacrifice is very powerful theme that I love in other anime: Night on the Galactic Railroad, Mawaru Penguindrum and even the end of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam with Kamille’s loss of sanity.

A few years ago when the death announcement of Kirsten Bishop was all over the news in the anime world, most every one were mourning one of the original dub actors for that mega-hit show known as Sailor Moon. I was also in a state of melancholy, but not for Sailor Moon, but for the movie you are reading about. Kirsten voiced Marina during her teens and that innocent quality of her voice added so much for the character. The dub is not perfect, but her performance for me is pure gold. Kirsten from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

LM3.jpgTruth, in time, can never be hidden. Facing one’s own issues and honoring another’s decision is often painful, but a critical part of growing up. Death is never an answer, but often the experiences we know we can never fulfill end up in a way killing a part of  us inside. Accepting these events, though necessary, is never easy. Such is the value of what many consider only simple a ‘fairy tale’ or ‘children’s story’.

dyr #12 : Tokimeki Tonight

The great thing about doing panels about years of the 1980s is that I end up finding out that I have barely scratched the surface in regards to classic anime. For 2017, I am working on a panel for 1982 which features classics like Space Adventure Cobra, Arcadia of my Youth, and the original Macross (yeah for Macross). And in the process I find undiscovered gems, at least for me, like Tokimeki Tonight (Heart Throbbing Tonight), which I just finished recently finished and enjoyed very much. So what is this shojo comedy all about?

tmt1Ranze Eto is much like your typical teenage girl. She is totally into the boy she sits next to in class, Shun Makable (she always calls him Makable-kun, I thought it was cute), and she has to deal with a rival , the ‘thick eyebrowed’ and conniving Yoko Kamiya. But there is more than meets the eye because Ranze comes from a family of monsters. I mean she does not look like a monster, but ask her parents who are a vampire (her father) and a werewolf (her  mother). And when these two fight, wow, they go way off the wall, but they do love each other and their family. And plain looking Ranze, in time, discovers she has a vampire-like ability where if she bites anything or anyone she transforms into the victim. And don’t worry, no harm is done to any humans or animals as they end up passing out for a while. To transform back, she has to sneeze… pepper please!

tmt3Similar in a way to the Shonen Jump classic Kimaguree Orange Road, as this has a prototypical  love triangle of one boy being fought over by two young ladies (the simple days before harem) and super natural elements, this one is a bit different. First of course it being a shojo, the ‘target audience’ leans the story telling a little different, but the big difference is the elements of horror and mythology. And it works quite well with all these odd elements, but that is just the surface. The real essence is the comedy. And I will give my two cents, I had moments where I was laughing a lot, A LOT! Going in cold on this one, I was surprised with the all out lunacy. Such a funny show. Although I felt after watching episode 26 it got a bit heavy with filler episodes. Episode 26 was such a great climax, but maybe that could be due to popularity extending the series, maybe (it ended after 34 episodes in case you are wondering)? Just my hypothesis. Funny thing this show ended well before the end of the manga, yeah never heard that before.

tmt2And then there are the opening and closing tracks, especially the closer (named Super Love Lotion… kinda kinky?) as it makes you want to dance with that electronic disco beat. Also an interesting observation from me as this show was animated in 1982 because the background artwork reminds me a lot of titles from the early 1970s like the original Lupin III. A little bit on the plain side, but then again this was animated by Group TAC (from my research as they seemed to be the main studio?) and they are also known for their 1985 classics Touch and Night on the Galactic Railroad both of which are a little sparse in the art department, but masterpieces due to the story telling.

Tokimeki Tonight you were a pleasant surprise indeed. I can never give up the faith that there is more gold left in the ground to harvest. Now the only question is… what should I watch next?