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 had were in for a suprise. 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 #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 #33 : Neo-Human Casshan

cass_1If you want to be a superhero, there is one main rule to follow. True you need to have some kind of power that makes you… super? But, even more important, you have to have a great costume. Casshan’s uniform is second to none and has left an influence onto future creations, not unlike Megaman. A helmet clad cyborg hero in a world that has flipped upside down trying to make it right again, while looking awesome in the process. I call that worth a watch! Tatsunoko redefined the concept of the superhero in the early 1970s and this was their second concept to hit the market. A reborn human, or a cyborg, better known as Neo-Human Casshan.

Say Casshan… one thing before I begin. The spelling as ‘Casshern’, what is this? Hearing the original language track and I hear something closer to ‘Cassharn’ so ‘Casshan’ is more appropriate? Enough of the being on the soapbox. …

cass_2Oddly I came to the original Tatsunoko production of 1973 not first in my journey of watching all that is Casshan, but last. I watched the 90s OVA first (I thought it was ok), then Casshern Sins (I loved it) and then the original. For some weird reason I thought the original series, before even watching a minute of it, was going to be a little bit of a brighter and more fun series. Of course I had seen the original Gatchaman, Tatsunoko’s first superhero series (and a good one), and that was a bit of a more serious affair and the same was also true for the original Casshan. My gut instinct was wrong, just don’t ask me what I ate that day to have me come to that original conclusion.

cass_3Casshan like in every other adaptation is the lone warrior, the anti-hero, the one who is unjustly given a role to make right in a world that has gone wrong. The cause of these issues was an accident that brought a robotic creation of his father’s, BK-1 or Braiking Boss, to life. Braiking Boss’s awakening corrupted his logic and function, which in turn makes him the main bad guy of the series. To counter this error, Dr. Kotaro Azuma’s son Tetsuya volunteers to be reborn as a cyborg to fight the robot army of Braiking Boss. And it is this army that has taking over humanity. Their purpose is to eradicate the human race because these robots think the only way to clean up the pollution and problems of Earth is to destroy the inhabitants that created it. Kind of like Frankenstein meets Fist of the North Star? And speaking of FotNS, Braiking Boss you sound a bit like Raoh (Kenji Utsumi voiced both roles).

cass_4Mixed with the social responsibilities are Casshan’s personal struggles of the break-up of his family and his distancing behavior of forgetting his former identity of Tetsuya Azuma. His personal angst is most apparent to his friend Luna, a long time friend and maybe a love interest. But to me the most touching moment of his troubles are his interactions with Swanee, a robotic swan who acts as a spy for Casshan, but also Swanee contains his mother’s soul or essence. The interaction between these two are the most heartfelt as Casshan, or should I say Tetsuya, really wants to reconnect with a relationship with family. And who says being a super hero is easy? With every duty comes a cost.

In terms of western story telling, Casshan reminds me of the lone cowboy, but to be eastern appropriate, Casshan is the lone samurai. Except he is not alone. Fighting along side is a re-invention of the Azuma family dog Lucky now known as Friender. And if dogs are man’s best friend, then robot should be added to the equation as well. The pairing of these two make a formidable combination and to state it again, both are great examples of design. And speaking of design, Casshan has the great look of the early Tatsunoko shows of the 1970s and perhaps 1970s anime in general. This show looks like it was made by hand with heavy emphasis on strong lines that scream pencil and ink. Beautiful and rough.

Heroes come and go, but legends never die. Thanks to a couple reinventions the name Casshan will live on longer. Much like Yamato and Gundam, remakes can sell ideas to a new generation, but never hold the honesty of the original. Neo-Human Casshan you are a one of a kind.

dyr #32 : Zillion: Burning Night

Many and I mean many anime from the 1980s drew inspiration from a live action cult film, Streets of Fire (see it if you can). But how many have literally ripped it off to be a near clone? I know one… Zillion: Burning Night. The title is even a near doppleganger? This is one of my favorite odd ball OVA releases and one really does not need to have any prior knowledge of the Zillion TV series. All you need is a bucket of popcorn and an hour of time.

zbn_1Let’s give a group of favorite heroes another day in the sun. It’s the late 1980s after all and if a show was halfway successful give it a followup direct to video OVA release. Zillion was another fun sci-fi action series that had it’s fifteen minutes of fame back in 1987. Of course SEGA Master System fans do you remember the two games Zillion and Zillion II: The Triformation? They are based on this show. Hopefully you have a copy of each, just remember the jump and action buttons are reversed. So this a SEGA anime? Yes INDEED! SAY, GAH! It even featured the character Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone. But after one year Zillion would wrap up the story being told, until… until the release of an OVA Zillion: Burning Night.

zbn_2So where do we start? Our heroes JJ, Champ and Apple, the White Nuts (how the Japanese term the words knights?), and friends are headed to a bar on motorcycles because what do you do after you save the world? Anyone? You form a band! Crank up the amplifiers and ready the cigarette lighter salutes folks. Not only can our heroes handle the awesome Zillion guns, they can also rock out till after midnight. And then a bunch of thugs rush in to kidnap Apple and take her away to the rough side of town. This sounds and looks a little familiar… kind of like the beginning of… Streets of Fire? Guilty as charged, but it’s an awesome near scene for scene rip-off and that is only the beginning.

zbn_3So now it is up to save Apple from the Odama Clan (originally the Nohza’s main bad guy crew, but now they are more human in appearance), but then Champ and JJ encounter an old flame of Ms. Apple, Rick (Ricks from the Japanese dub and also a former Nohza). As of writing I have yet to see the original Japanese version. The Streamline dub has some funny moments in the way they translate the script… “This must have a cast iron brain pan” is a good example. Not to knock it, I love the actors from ye old Robotech days and this was one of the first productions where I realized they were all involved in something else besides Robotech. Kind of like a comforting of reacquaintance towards nostalgia?

zbn_4When I eventually come across a release with the Japanese track and English subtitles I will need to put that into the top of my priority watch list. Truth be told this is not the most mind blowing OVA, but it makes a fantastic background companion when doing other projects. This is yet another odd treasure from my not so dusty VHS collection. I think I should get back to my shelves of tapes and review all the other oddball releases I have collected.

dyr #21 : Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive

Recall the Disney version of Robin Hood. You have your traveling minstrel rooster, saying the animal kingdom has their own version of the story and might I add it is “what really happened in Sherwood Forest” at least according to our journeyman friend. When you often say the three words ‘Love Live Alive’… now is it ‘Live’ like I want to live through this or I saw that awesome band ‘Live’? Sorry… you think of an attempt on Harmony Gold to squeeze a couple more bucks from the Robotech name. But this blogger has another version of this story and this is what really happened. In 1985, same year that Robotech aired ironically, this little OVA was released in Japan. Here is the real story of Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive (thats a long title, eh?). Oh de Lally Golly What a Day!

mlla_1I know the Robotech version emphases ‘Live’ as I want to live through this, but I may be wrong and I don’t care because I read ‘Live’ as I saw that awesome band ‘Live’. And speaking of music, that is the backbone to the OVA as we follow the ‘Lonely Soldier Boy’ Yellow Belmont and what he has been up to after the Inbit invasion war. He still rides his blue Mospeada bike, bends gender better than anyone and performs his music all over. A soldier he may have been, but his heart belongs to fashion and the stage. And it is the career that he deserves as he recalls memories of his recent past. But what about the music as the backbone to this story?

mlla_2Genesis Climber Mospeada: Love Live Alive is a simple love letter. Did you love the show from a couple years back? The staff at Tatsunoko studios have a little something for you to reminisce. The music mentioned earlier that is either recorded or performed live by Yellow splices between flashbacks of his old companion’s adventures that recall the nostalgia in period correct MTV style. This was not in the Robotech version (grr!), but what of this music anyway? Who actually wrote these songs? How about Jo Hisashi! All you Studio Ghibli fans should know that name. That’s right, Jo has a back catalog of various musical contributions including this OVA and the original TV series. The grand orchestral sounds of the Ghibli films though are not present. Here we have Jo’s sensibility in the flavors of rock and pop. Midnight Rider is my favorite track followed by Mind Tree in case you have the soundtrack handy.

mlla_3I honestly don’t know how popular Genesis Climber Mospeada was in Japan and really it does not matter. Be it the Robotech or original version of the 25 episode show, I liked it very much for the small rebel bandit unit and morphing motorcycle armor, so badass. But again in my book, it is the characters I love most. Yellow was my favorite character from the show anyway and having a video about him makes Love Live Alive double special. Besides being creatively talented and often the strong voice of reason in the group, Yellow was the first individual in my life that I recognized as transgender (thats a big thing for the 1980s), though I did not know what that word was for years to come. Again, how this OVA got made about a character from yet another scifi mecha show is beyond me? I should not ask and just accep,t after all it was the 1980s in Japan, all kinds of productions got green lighted.

As a fan of either telling of this show I appreciate this short direct to video one off.  I can’t say much more since it is what it is, a string of music videos spliced between moments of Yellow’s current life told in about a span of an hour. …and like what wise people say about cover songs, nothing beats hearing the original. Live on Yellow and rock on!

dyr #1 : Megazone 23 (part 1)

Megazone 23 could be my favorite one off OVA of all time. True there are two other parts, well three since part three is a two-parter. Megazone 23, the first one, the original, is in my mind enough of a self contained story in and of itself. After all “there can be only one!” It is a quintessential time capsule of the era (1985). Plus, to me, the open ended ending is priceless. If ever there was a production that had everything, and I mean pretty close to everything I look for in an anime, this is one of a select few I draw from my collection without a second glance.

Megazone 23 is far from the first anime I was exposed to, but I can say for sure it was the first that solidified me as an otaku. Before Megazone 23 I had a good working knowledge of well known titles at the time and that I was aware of: Robotech, Gundam Wing, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Record of Lodoss War… you get the picture. Mostly well known popular stuff, quasi-casual may be a better term. I needed to locate more niche material. So I landed on Megazone 23 and Area 88, not a bad combination if I say so.

grab018277.pngBegun as a so called follow-up to a show most Robotech fans should be familiar with, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Megazone 23 had an interesting start. I often consider this show to be the true sequel to Macross (another nod to Robotech), if not in name, as it shares a majority of it’s key staff including director Noboru Ishiguro and character designers Toshihiro/Toshiki Hirano and Haruhiko Mikimoto (three men I have the highest of respect for). I won’t get into the historic details too much, but the production started off as a TV series with various working titles until the main sponsor pulled the plug. No money, big problem, what to do? Release it direct to video since that is a growing market and thankfully, that is what happened. Who knows how much of the plot was cut to fit it into an approximate 80 minute running time? But in the end who cares, it worked.

As for the story we have a young man (Shogo) who loves motorcycles, living in the world on his own who meets a girl (Yui) and then ends up meeting the mecha (Garland) and then a nemesis (B.D.) and then a 1980s equivalent to Hatsune Miku (Eve, Kumi Miyasato’s songs are great). Then all hell breaks loose as things begin to unravel much like a peeling onion. I often think of Megazone 23 as the ultimate growing up story where everything you have learned about life and reality is ripped from right under your feet.

6a7abe908923891d76f7a1ac5c7596c81436012095_fullBeing the fact that this production was released direct to video, it gave those who grew up with mecha as their preferred genre an even more “realistic” grown up story following the growing sophistication of epics like Gundam, Macross and Votoms. Of course the growing popularity of the fighting genre (Fist of the North Star, Dragonball and Saint Seiya) signaled an end to the television dominance of mecha. Zeta Gundam, also a 1985 release, is in my mind the capstone to an era in television where mecha grew in sophistication and serious subject matter that did not come back again until possibly Evangelion. Many of those who grew up in the 70s/early 80s now needed a new avenue to find material and in many cases material to match their growing maturity. Megazone 23 was in the perfect place at the perfect time.

And as for release in North America, there would be three attempts. First as part of Robotech: the Movie, which did not last long (even Carl Macek disowned it). Then came Streamline Pictures (Carl’s official release and a solid one) and finally ADV (the dub is totally rad man, hear it to believe it, but it is also a good effort). Both the Streamline and ADV release saw DVD releases, but are out of print.

Also is in some ways Megazone 23 can be considered an early cyber-punk release. Of course American cinema like Blade Runner and Streets of Fire were the bigger influences, but from Megazone 23 we would grow into the likes of Bubblegum Crisis, Akira and the early Masamune Shirow adaptations (Black Magic M-66, Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police) later in the decade. Speaking of Streets of Fire, released in 1984, the cast see it in the cinema during the story, talk about paying homage.

If there is one thing that bothers me about Megazone 23, it is how much another “Hollywood” property gets a lot of the credit for the concept of living in a manufactured society run by a computer, even though Megazone 23 told the story first, sort of. Director Noburo Ishiguro has mentioned how the concept is very similar to a couple of Robert Heinlein’s short stories, so Megazone 23 may not have been the first either. All told The Matrix may have sold the idea in a large scale both culturally and financially, but Megazone 23 will always be my tale for a controlled manufactured society.