Monday, November 24, 2014

and now back to our long distance dedication

Hello, this is Casey Kasem, back from the beyond to count down the 10 biggest classic-anime hits in the 50 states. And now for our long distance dedication. Here's one we can all understand, whether we have kids or pets or neither. It's the top ten Western pop music songs that were either written about anime characters, or are covers of anime theme songs, or in some way became connected to classic anime. Does that make any sense, that Japanese cartoons were enough of a part of the pop culture landscape to inspire musicians for decades? It does to me. Is Don on the phone? And I also want to know what happened to the pictures I was supposed to see this week! I want someone to use his freaking brain to not come out of a gosh-darned record that is, uh, that is up-tempo and I gotta talk about a... um... uh... and now, on with the countdown. Here's number ten.

Modern power pop troubadour Matthew Sweet spent time in Athens GA playing in a band that also featured Michael Stipe's sister before recording his debut solo LP, which failed to impact the music scene. Its followup also fizzled. It took a rock retooling, an embrace of his inner fanboy, and a couple of eye-catching videos to put Sweet on the charts, and one of the hits from his third album 'Girlfriend' was this tune, "I've Been Waiting". The song was paired to visuals from the first Urusei Yatsura film "Only You" to create a unique music video experience, even among the outlandish landscape of music videos.



As The Buggles, new wave bad boys Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes inadvertently turned the world on its ear when the Russell Mulcahy-directed music video for their song "Video Killed The Radio Star" gained fame as the first ever video broadcast on the nascent cable channel MTV. They'd later be picked to form a short lived iteration of prog rock legends Yes, which in the early 80s would doom The Buggles as a creative entity. Horn would go on to produce ABC, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and The Art Of Noise, while Downes would leave Yes to form prog-rock supergroup Asia with members of ELP and King Crimson. However we can look back fondly at The Buggles' first album, which featured sharp, tightly produced nervous New Wave hits like this song, "Astro Boy (And The Proles On Parade)" Does it have anything to do with the cartoon Astro Boy? You decide.



Moving on to number 8 in our countdown, SoCal punkers The Dickies gave the hardcore scene a swift, humorous kick in the pants with their speedy, goofy, un-serious brand of aggressive punk rock. This led to The Dickies being featured as the first punk band to make an appearance on American network television (on C.P.O. Sharkey) and the first punk band to have a top ten single that was a cover of the theme song to a TV show starring people in giant dog outfits (with their cover of "Tra-la-la The Banana Splits Song").  Here The Dickies regale us with their excellent cover version of the theme to everybody's favorite show about the young boy and the super robot whose power is in his hands, Gigantor.




Here at number seven, we have the odd yet strangely fitting combination of a 1972 hit single from an Irish singer-songwriter and a single episode of a 1986 anime series. What interesting alignment of cosmic forces placed the Gilbert O'Sullivan single "Alone Again (Naturally)" as the opening credits song for episode 24 of Maison Ikkoku? Was the new theme song - "Suki sa" by Anzen Chitai - simply not ready yet? Or was there a slip-up or a prankster at master control? O'Sullivan's song would spend six weeks at the top of the charts in 1972 but in '86 it would flash past our TV screens in ninety seconds, and would never make it onto American releases of the the Maison Ikkoku TV series, for obvious copyright reasons.



Coming in at number six we have the three or four nice girls who make up the self-styled "dyke rock" combo Two Nice Girls, bridging the gap between radical lesbian feminism and sarcastic punk rock, delivering an Austin-style twang to their cover of the theme song to everybody's favorite cartoon about the Greatest Race Car Driver In The World, young Speed Racer. Keep an ear out for the new lyrics!



At the other end of the musical Speed Racer spectrum, here at number five we have Alpha Team's techno-dance track "Speed Racer", which is pretty much the early 1990s condensed into one four minute headache full of drum machines and samples, promoted by what may be the worst music video ever made.



Meanwhile back in the 1980s, LA new wavers the Gleaming Spires ask the musical question, "Are You Ready For The Sex Girls?"  Almost members of Sparks, the Gleaming Spires would have a KROQ hit with this tune. "Sex Girls" would wind up in Hollywood films and as music in one of Pinesalad Productions' parody dubs of television episodes of seminal 80s action anime Dirty Pair, bringing the Gleaming Spires to an audience far beyond the reach of Rodney Bingenheimer. Also, the Spire's music video for this song is an all-time classic.



"We never had a manager. We never had a booking agent. We never had a lawyer. We never took an advance from a record company. We booked our own tours, paid our own bills, made our own mistakes and never had anybody shield us from either the truth or the consequences. The results of that methodology speak for themselves: Nobody ever told us what to do, and nobody took any of our money." Steve Albini; Nirvana engineer, outspoken rock industry gadfly, techno-brutalist noise innovator, and all around tough as nails music legend, brings us to number three on our countdown as he and his band Big Black deliver a 1984 tune about the coolest character to ever walk through a 1960s Japanese cartoon about auto racing. I'm talking about Racer X, of course. Find out where he keeps his speed!



From the industrial punk of Big Black to the orchestral glam of Queen, we come to Queen guitarist Brian May and HIS mid-80s EP flirtation with Japanese pop culture, Star Fleet Project. Enchanted by the sci-fi adventures then enthralling his young son, May found himself fascinated by the show Star Fleet, the English version of the Japanese puppet adventure X-Bomber. This 1978 series starred puppet characters designed by manga legend Go Nagai and a space-opera aesthetic that lay somewhere between Leiji Matsumoto star-romance and George Lucas pryotechnic adventure. What could be more natural than to recruit some accomplices, including Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen, into the studio for some outer space puppet robot space cover-song action?  Nothing, that's what, and the result takes the number two slot our countdown- Brian May and the Star Fleet Project with "Star Fleet".




Of course, if you want to be like top animation director Hideaki Anno and sing along to the original Japanese X-Bomber theme song by BOWWOW, you're in good company.



And now we're down to the number one song in the United States, if the United States was one guy making an arbitrary list. The Number One song is... yes! It's Matthew Sweet back on the countdown with the title track from his 1991 album, Girlfriend. This driving, top-10 single brought Sweet to the
attention of the music industry, rock fans, and anime nerds alike with its brilliant production and clear power-pop alternative rock sound, which still plays as fresh as it did on college radio back in '91. Was the still-infant anime industry in North America boosted by seeing Space Adventure Cobra on MTV sixteen times a day, intriguing audiences with its mix of sexy ladies and Psycho Guns? I like to think so.




I'm Casey Kasem from Hollywood, and you've been listening to Classic Anime Top Ten. Join us each week at this same time as we count down the biggest hits in the classic anime world. Until next time, keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!


Friday, November 7, 2014

The "Space Cruiser Yamato" Generation

This is an article from Japan Echo vol VI, No. 1, 1979, about the Space Cruiser Yamato phenomenon as seen by Mitsuru Yoshida, whose qualifications to speak on the subject are beyond dispute; he served on the actual battleship Yamato during World War Two. His memoir "Requiem For Battleship Yamato" should be required reading for anyone interested in the Pacific War in general, or super-battleships in particular.  I xeroxed this article from the bound periodicals section of my university library some years ago, and present it here as a public service.





Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shogakukan TV Picture Book: Psycho Armor Govarian

Psycho Armor Govarian (sometimes spelled “Govarion”), perhaps Knack Productions’ most visually appealing SF anime show, aired from July to December of 1983. One of several series whipped up by Go Nagai and his Dynamic Pro crew for Knack, Govarian stars young Isamu Napoto, who is recruited along with other psychic Earthlings by the alien scientist Zeku Alba to battle the evil Garadian space invaders, who attack Earth in their “Genocider” mecha. Luckily for Earth, Isamu and pals can use their psychokinetic powers to conjure up their own powerful super mecha Raid, Garom, and the titular Govarian. Rick Zerrano was kind enough to translate this Govarian children’s book for us, so now we can achieve the knowledge level of Japanese 8-year olds and join Govarian as he battles to save the Earth!

(please click on images to Psycho-Enlarge)





















Enjoy more Shogakukan TV Picture Books today. Thanks for reading, and look out for Genociders!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

THE SUPER GALAXY REVUE: CYBORG 009; THE REVUE; OCT. 8 2014

A few weeks back I had a chance to join nine special people on a fantastic trip to the outer reaches of the cosmos – and all I had to do was ditch work for a few hours!  The Revue on Roncesvalles is an older theater with comfortable seats; the perfect host for JFTOR/TAAFI’s screening of CYBORG 009 Gekijō Ban: Chō Ginga Densetsu aka Legend Of the Super Galaxy aka Ultra Galaxy Legend aka Defenders Of The Vortex.  The Cyborg 009 film was screened in Toronto as part of the Japan Foundation’s fall anime series, using a subtitled 35mm print from the Japan Foundation library.

The 1980 009 film is an interesting choice to program here in the 21st century.  Not only does it act as a coda to the never-aired-here 1979-1980 Cyborg 009 TV series, but it reflects the cinematic anime SF of that era; that is to say, voyages across the universe that bend the laws of time and space and last more than two hours, taking a generous approach to the patience of the audience and the limits of forward momentum in terms of storytelling.

Super Galaxy Legend takes place years after the Cyborgs have defeated their various enemies and returned to their normal pursuits of auto racing, ballet, cooking, entertaining, and floating around in sleepies. Dr. Gilmore has retired and putters around the International Space Center, built next door to his former Cliffside home. His pal Dr. Cosmo is all abuzz about discovering the energy source that caused the Big Bang and working out some kind of method of controlling it and ending that pesky energy crisis that we were all worried about in 1980.  It’s this energy source, “the vortex,” that our Super Galaxy Legend swirls around.  

From the destroyed planet Comada comes alien boy Saba in a wildly impractical space cruiser, seeking Earth’s aid against the evil Zoa and his Dagas Corps. Saba’s father Dr. Colvin was also researching the Vortex, until he was kidnapped by Zoa, who seeks to control the Vortex for universal domination. Will the Cyborgs aid Saba?  Sure they will, especially after Zoa kidnaps both Dr. Cosmo and Cyborg 001.  Pressed into action, our remaining cyborg soldiers suit up for one more battle against evil.  You'll feel every bit of the 400 light years past the galaxy as the 009 crew and Saba journey through the 2001-trip-sequence style Star Gate; Legend Of Super Galaxy dawdles past long pans of spaceships and landscapes and planets, and yes, there’s the mandated-by-law sequence where our spaceship passes every planet in the solar system in order as it leaves the solar system. How else would you know they were leaving the solar system, I ask you?

That’s the hallmark of this era’s anime movies. Instead of the slam-bang action of, say, Star Wars, they recall the pompous, ponderous Majesty Of Outer Space thoughtfulness of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The films are bloated and overlong, swelling with orchestral soundtracks and improbable mind-expanding sci-fi super-constructions, enough to overwhelm any viewer. However, they aren’t without their more prosaic charms; Phoenix 2772 never forgets cartoons should be funny sometimes, Be Forever Yamato leavens its Dark Nebulas and Double Proton Bombs with tragedy and temptation, and Queen Millennia’s clash of civilizations leaves no one untouched. However, Cyborg 009 Legend Of Super Galaxy loses the human touch somewhere out in the galactic wastes.

Director Masayuki Akehi was deep in a career that included Mazinger Z, Prehistoric Boy Ruy, Gakeen, King Arthur, Danguard Ace, SSX, Saint Seiya, and Yu-Gi-Oh, as well as films as disparate as the noisy, incoherent Grandizer-Getta Robo G- Great Mazinger Final Battle Ocean Beast and the thoughtful Queen Millennia. Here in the 009 film his reflective side gets a workout, without a whole lot in the way of drama or action. Not enough happens in this film, and what does happen is fairly standard SF cliché, giving us a cinematic experience that is all cosmic, dreamy, pastel colored sizzle without much steak.  Sure, there are some Star Wars-inspired outer space dogfights, and a pit stop on planet Fantarian for some standard-issue princess rescuing, and a climax aboard an evil, ultimate-weapon-equipped space station; but these typical SF film tropes were poor momentum builders even in 1980.
 
a helpful guide to the super galaxy
Audiences aren’t even given a lot of Cyborg. The gang gets more screen time here than they do in the recent RE: Cyborg, but just as in their latest outing, there simply isn't enough 008 fire or 007 shape-changing or 005 lifting or 001 crying.  Of course, 1980 audiences had just enjoyed fifty TV episodes of Cyborg 009 battling cyborgs and gods and evil triplets; perhaps the producers felt they could dispense with the frivolities and instead concentrate on blowing minds. Certainly this is where Ishinomori was going with the 009 manga, away from the action and towards philosophical pondering of Big Questions.


And let's make this very clear. This film works hard at being weird and alien. The ridiculous blown-glass-ornamentalism of Saba's space cruiser (with a whimsical name – call her “Ishmael”) is only the first step into a glossy, strangely colored film that takes us to Fantarian, a wild fake-Aztec freakout of degenerate tribesmen, lake monsters, eerie vegetation, and crumbling temples. The squat, hateful Dagas swarm through their ugly, brutalist space fortress, and a 2001-style trip through the Star Gate takes us an infinity beyond the usual nuts and bolts, engineerist milieu of a typical 009 adventure.

Even with their new, rounded character designs, the Cyborgs feel like guests stars in their own movie. The script doesn't give them a lot to do outside their defining characteristics of Heroic, Tragic, or Comedy Relief. 009 and 003 make goo-goo eyes at each other a few times, and the totally superfluous detour to planet Fantarian allows Queen Tamara to shamelessly throw herself at Joe in an attempt to give the film some sort of relationship-related tension. Perhaps there are some six-year-olds in the audience who really think 009 is going to ditch his cyborg pals for a purple space lady, but the rest of us know better. This is a woman in a Cyborg 009 cartoon who's making a play for Joe and that means her time is almost up. I'm not saying 003 is responsible; I'm just saying they all wind up dead. 

After a space journey filled with SF tropes, the film wraps with yet another cliché as Zoa is destroyed by the Real Ultimate Power that he himself wished for, the power that also allows Joe to wish everything OK again (which might sound a little pat, but be honest, it beats the heck out of whatever the hell happened at the end of RE: Cyborg).  Joe’s big tall wish also brings fallen Cyborg 004 back to life, in a scene edited out of Japanese TV versions of this film, for considerations of time and also because it is a goofily tacked-on piece of drama-ruining hackwork.  

The print was a bit scratchy, but still enjoyable – as was explained before the show, it was a library print that had literally been all over the world. I was curious how the surprisingly sizeable audience would take this film, which is, to be fair, full of characters they don’t know on a mission to oddly named planets, protecting the universe from a poorly explained menace. This is where the movie could have benefited from spending a few of those one hundred and thirty five minutes on a bit of Cyborg exposition or Cyborg backstory.  However, the crowd seemed to laugh at the right parts (and a few of the hackier dramatic turns) and the gosh-wow SF material seemed to wow appropriately.  It’s tempting to say that there’s much about this movie that is too “1980” to really click with 2014’s audiences – but at the same time, last year’s RE: Cyborg left fans unsatisfied too. It may just be that single films are not the best way to use nine or ten characters to push boundaries and explore new thematic elements; the stories of a manga creator as ambitious as Ishinomori may after all be best suited for manga.

Other films in JFTOR’s Wednesday night series include the ninja historical drama Dagger Of Kamui, which is also punishingly long but sports ninjas and a Mark Twain cameo. Also appearing is the sold-out Akira and the 2009 autobiographical feature Mai Mai Miracle. If you’re free Wednesday nights, head for the Revue!  You can find out more about JFTOR here. See you in the Revue!
my favorite promotional photo from the premiere because why not

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

our 20th Anime Weekend Atlanta

It's that time of year again, when my already slow blogging pace slows down to a crawl and everybody starts wondering what happened. Well, what happened is what happens every year around this time, it's AWA, the anime con we started 20 years ago in a cut-rate hotel in an iffy part of town. The hotel got demolished, the neighborhood is gentrifying, and what was a 300 person weekend is now roughly 20,000 people filling a hotel and a convention center and another hotel and a few more hotels down the way. Because, let's face it, people like Japanese cartoons.

This year's convention is jam packed with guests and excitement, and I am not just tossing hyperbole around here; guests like anime theme song legend MIQ, the voice talents behind Gundam's Amuro Ray, Sailor Saturn, and Space Dandy, and indy rock legends Shonen Knife. Main Events is moving into one of the convention center's giant halls, freeing up space for new events. Thursday night is a full-fledged convention day with panels, karaoke, and registration opening at 2pm. And... the food trucks are back.

What am I up to at AWA?  Well, Thursday night there's the Super Happy Fun Sell.


This freewheeling yard-sale event has expanded and will be a three-hour whirlwind of bargains and treasures. And yes, all the tables are sold.

Later that night it's time for the Old School Classroom!


I'll be doing a live version of the popular column I did last year about the least necessary original anime videos of the 80s.  I expect to annoy the Persona fans and endure the lightning-fast "you forgot about..." comments from the audience!  It'll be great.

Friday I will be on a panel about 70s anime and TV, and then at 10pm it is time for Hell.


Anime Hell, that is!  This crazy clip show is a mainstay of audience bewildering fun at AWA and I promise to confuse and amuse or triple your money back.  And that is me there in the Astro Boy shirt.

Saturday at 6 the surviving members of Atlanta's first anime club are going to re-unite and catch up with what all we've been up to since 1988. Yes, it's a C/FO Atlanta reunion!



Saturday night it's time for the grownups to socialize, and that means the AWA Mixer. This is a new event that's going to let the 21+ crowd have somewhere to relax and enjoy a drink or two from the cash bar, away from the milling throngs of noisy kids.



Sunday morning Neil Nadelman and I will be nursing our hangovers as we discuss the suffering of a famous shoujo heroine and her many trials and tribulations.


Yes, it's Candy Candy, idol of millions, whose anime existence hangs in legal limbo, as discussed on this very same anime blog.

Will YOU be at this landmark 20th AWA?  Will you be one of the survivors barely hanging on as the last event wraps up Sunday night?  See you there!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

leftover Candy

I had a bunch of images that for whatever reason didn't make it into last time's Candy Candy post. In the weeks since posting the article, I also found some more interesting Candy imagery out in the hinterlands. So, in the interests of completeness, here's some more Candy Candy.

I completely neglected to show any of Igarashi's original Candy Candy manga artwork, a mistake I'm now making right to the best of my ability, with my beat-up used edition of volume 8. 

Many screencaps of the show were made for the article, and some of them didn't make the cut. Here's Candy and Annie enjoying the school dance. Candy is the one in the mask dressed as a man.


Later in the show Candy made a daring leap at a dramatic moment to save somebody or something from somebody or something, I forget.


The World Cup was happening at the time I was working on this article, and that is really the only excuse I have for what I did next.


The French-language Candy Book we mentioned earlier contains a lot of useful information for young girls - makeup tips, crafts, health and beauty advice, articles about pets and hobbies, and the importance of staying active with various sporting activities, like, say, roller skating.


Another fascinating part of the Candy Book was the sequence in which Candy gets an ill-advised tattoo.


The French and Italians and other European markets were inundated with anime merchandise in the 70s and 80s, and Candy was no exception, as we see from this charming fumetti advertisement for children's costumes and toys. Remember that one time that Grandizer and somebody in a Fantastic Four costume went to a birthday party with Candy? You don't? Well, here's proof!


Here's a closeup of that Candy play house / tent. Just the thing for your tea parties with Grandizer and Mr. Fantastic Four.


While on vacation recently, we stopped in an antique mall, as we are in the habit of doing from time to time, and we spotted this little bit of possibly unauthorized Candy Candy merchandise:


This children's sewing machine seemed to be in pretty good shape and was reasonably priced. If you're in the area (I-5 north of Seattle), it might make a good addition to your bootleg anime character merchandise collection. You do have one of those, right?


We were tempted to pick it up ourselves, but the logistics of getting this thing onto an airplane and back home in one piece are kind of daunting. So it remains, an example of the offbeat anime treasures that lie undiscovered across our great land. Much like Candy Candy itself - an anime series trapped in an eerie no-man's land, just out of reach. Let's all keep our spirits up and remain hopeful that all the parties involved can resolve their legal issues and bring Candy Candy back to her fans, old and new.