Tuesday, October 14, 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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

it's candy candy's world, we're just living in it

Our heroine’s about to be sold into Mexican child slavery, and that’s when the casual viewer begins to sit up and take notice, to realize that the girl’s cartoon Candy Candy is going to go way, way past frilly dresses, young loves, and funny animal sidekicks. Located somewhere near the kitsch-intersection of Mauve Decade tearjerker and 1970s anime, the struggles of Candice White Adley conquered shoujo manga, became a Toei anime and a worldwide phenomenon, and today are notable by the giant gaping hole its absence leaves in our pop culture map.

Want a forgettable romantic comedy starring a generic smiling tomboy and her charming pets? Go watch Lun Lun the Flower Angel, you wuss. Candy Candy is the real deal; a 100% tear-injected emotion-wringing pile-driving machine that spares nothing in its drive to deliver repeated jack-hammer emotional shocks to Candy.

But Candice White can take it. With a Shonen Magazine hero’s sense of justice and the horseback-lasso skills of a dime novel Wild West cowboy, Candy makes her own luck as she soldiers through an orphan’s life in the American Midwest, the social pitfall-infested lifestyles of the ultrawealthy, harsh British public school discipline, and the front lines of nursing during the pain and loss of a world at war.  Even though her heart is broken again and again, a healing return to Pony’s Home puts her right and before you know it, she’s back out in the world blazing her own trail.  

my Candy Candy cel
Author Kyoko Mizuki premiered Candy in a 1975 novel, shortly thereafter teaming up with mangaka Yumiko Igarashi to serialize Candy Candy’s adventures for several years in the venerable shojo monthly Nakayoshi.  Mizuki and Igarashi teamed up again with Nakayoshi’s Tim Tim Circus while Mizuki herself created kiddy comedy series Shampoo Oji in 2007. Igarashi’s post-Candy career includes the popular shojo series Lady Georgie, some work on the Anne Of Green Gables manga, and creating the seminal character “Boo Boo” in the 1983 anime Crusher Joe.

Toei’s  Candy Candy anime series would premiere in October of 1976, airing at 7pm Fridays on NET (now TV Asahi) for the next three years, and that’s when the Candy Candy merchandise train really got up a good head of steam, creating a blizzard of licensed goods for Japanese kids and eventual headaches for everybody’s legal departments. But I’m getting ahead of the story. Candy Candy showed up right as Europe was going crazy for Japanese cartoons and, as the girls’ counterpart to popular super robot mayhem, proved successful in France, Italy, Spain, Russia, China, Korea, the Arabic nations, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Peru, Portugal, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and Francophone Canada via the CBC.  Echoing the changes inflicted on Japanese anime by American localizers, some of the less fortunate characters in Candy wind up “hospitalized” rather than “dead” in foreign versions.  Sadly, the good old US wouldn’t get its Candy; apart from one videocassette release via ZIV, Candy Candy would never appear in her home country. Chances are the good citizens of La Porte Indiana have no idea their most famous daughter is actually a Japanese manga character.
Candy Candy 33rpm story record w/ extra crayon

Both Candy and her future best friend Annie were abandoned as infants in a snowstorm outside Pony’s Home orphanage somewhere near La Porte in the early part of the 20th century.  When Annie is adopted, her wealthy new family forbids any contact with the orphans, and young Candy’s heart suffers the first of many shocks. Her sorrow is eased by the appearance of a mystery boy in a kilt and bagpipes who charms Candy’s tears away and then vanishes, to be forever remembered by Candy as “The Prince on the Hill.”

Candy’s destiny would see her adopted into and buffeted by the social machinations of the wealthy and powerful Adley clan. Brought into the venal Leagan branch of the family, as a playmate for the spoiled Neil and Eliza, Candy is protected by their noble cousins, Archie and Alistair Cornwall and the boy who strangely reminds her of her hilltop prince, Anthony Brown.  Hated by the jealous Eliza, the malicious Neil, and their pretentious mother, Candy is saved from the Leagans’ ire when she’s officially adopted by the Adley family’s secretive patriarch, Grandfather William.

the spoiled rotten Neil and Eliza, who should die by leeching
Reunited with Annie, abused by Neil and Eliza, imperiled by the crazy inventions of Alistair, and saved from drowning by the teenage hermit Albert, Candy’s budding romance with Anthony is destroyed just as it begins, in the series’ first major tragic turning point that shocked a generation of young fans. Heartbroken, the children are sent to an exclusive English private school, and en route Candy meets the rebellious young man who will soon become very important in her life, the moody bad boy Terry.  At St. Pauls, Candy will again face the wrath of Eliza as well as the stern discipline of an English public school, but even being unjustly locked in the punishment tower can’t break her spirit.

Archie, Anthony, Alistair
Terry reveals his tender side one glorious summer in Scotland, but their relationship is sidelined by Eliza’s jealousy, and when Terry quits school and returns to America to follow his theatrical dreams, Candy follows.  She braves the Atlantic as a stowaway and survives a snowy death-march back to Pony’s Home.  Her newfound determination to become a nurse finds her in the Merry Jane Nursing School, where the stern Merry Jane labels her a “dimwit” and contempt positively radiates from her older fellow student Franny. The cataclysmic European war brings the young nurses to St. Joanna Hospital in Chicago to learn advanced surgical nursing training – where Albert, returning to the narrative as an amnesiac war refugee, needs Candy’s skill to survive.

Terry’s acting career takes off as he grabs the lead in Romeo & Juliet on Broadway, and in spite of every plot contrivance, Candy and Terry reconnect. The rekindled flames of the Candy-Terry romance are threatened by sabotage from both Eliza and Susanna, Terry’s desperately lovesick costar. However, a tragic accident with a heavy stage light that finally destroys everyone’s chance at happiness, and the love triangle is demolished forever one snowy night in one of the more impressive displays of passive-aggressive behavior seen in the anime field, and only a healing retreat to Pony’s Home can help Candy recover.
a rare scene of Terry not smoking or drinking

After a car accident Albert’s memory returns, and he’s faced with a momentous decision.  A chance encounter on the streets of Chicago between Candy and Neil sparks a long-suppressed and possibly unbalanced desire. Candy has to deal with the repulsive attentions of Neil, while Eliza schemes to cause Candy eternal misery – halted at the last minute by the sudden appearance of the family’s patriarch, Candy’s mysterious benefactor Grandfather William. Candy learns not only the identity of Grandfather William but also the truth behind Candy’s first love, the “Prince on the Hill” – just in time for the series to end.

Candy and Albert, living in sin

Even for 115 episodes that’s a lot of story to get through, and I’ve breezed past so much – threatened by white slavers, Candy’s raccoon pet Kurin who was created just for TV, defying customs by smuggling said raccoon into England, Candy’s gender-bending waltz with Annie, the casual way Albert and Candy violate profound social mores by sharing an apartment, Candy demonstrating the horrors of mass warfare to a confused boy via a field of massacred cattle. We see fights in bars, a clinic that treats humans and animals alike, alcoholism, urban poverty, disease and death, crippled nurses returning from the Western front, and the tragic end to the romance between Alistair and Candy’s school chum Patty. Even the late-period “catch-up” story detour – to let the manga catch up with the anime, so they’d end together – is filled with drama, pathos, and cattle-stampede action.
French Candy book
The anime series only occasionally matched Igarashi’s lovely manga artwork, and vast liberties were taken in regards to the geography of North America – there aren’t any mountain ranges in Indiana, and you can’t get to Mexico in a day via carriage- but even the limited palette of mid 70s TV animation can’t hide the power of Candy, whose reach was inescapable. If you’re a woman of a certain age who was anywhere near a television in 1977-1980, you probably watched Candy Candy, read the manga, or bought the toy purse or the play house or the rack toys or saw the 1979 stage show starring Caroline Yoko… unless you lived in the States.

Two short Manga Matsuri films and a 1990 Toei OAV retold key story points, and the third Mizuki novel carried the story further into the 20th century, but for millions the television series remains the Candy canon. It’s an entertaining show for all, no matter your age, ethnic background, or gender; the soap opera wizardry keeps you tuned in episode after episode to find out what fresh hell Candy will suffer next. I’m testament to this; I’m clearly so not the target audience for this show, and yet here I am, a middle-aged guy experiencing the confused stares of Mandarake clerks as I blunder through their shojo section, protected only by the presence of my wife.
Neil has totally lost it
 Beloved by girls on four continents, debate still rages over whether Candy should have ended up with Anthony, Terry, or Albert - Yumiko Igarashi married Anthony’s voice actor Kazuhiko Inoue, for what it’s worth in settling that controversy. Their son Namami Igarashi is a cross-dressing manga artist, the more talented Ed Wood of the mangaka set.

Candy Candy was even referenced on Saturday Night Live in their infamous “anime club” skit.  Sadly, this seminal shoujo series now languishes in Copyright Limbo, kept from a generation of fans who would love nothing more than to open up their wallets and hurl cash at Candy merchandise.  Locked away by dueling creator lawsuits and corporate unwillingness to approach a property located in such a legal minefield, Candy Candy bides her time.  Mark my words; when these petty legal issues are cleared up, there will be an explosion of pent-up Candy Candy enthusiasm that will rock the pop-culture world from Tokyo to Timbucktu.
Keep your candy in your Candy Purse
Candy Candy Ping Pong set (?) 
The problem?  Mizuki and Igarashi shared the copyright on Candy Candy with Toei taking a side interest. However, in the 1990s, Igarashi unilaterally started selling Candy merchandise, prompting Mizuki to file suit against her. The Tokyo district court awarded both Mizuki and Igarashi joint custody of Candy in 1999. This didn’t stop Igarashi from legally challenging Toei’s TV stake in Candy, the effects of which were to cause Toei to place a hold on both the original show and any new Candy productions.  With a checkered past on both sides of the law – 200,000 bootleg Candy Candy t-shirts were seized in 1979, and an attempt at selling Candy Candy puzzles in 2003 led to a 7.8 million yen judgment against the two management outfits who commissioned their manufacture – it’s easy to see how corporate Japan would shy away from the spunky orphan. 
Candy matsuri mask in its natural environment
This hasn’t stopped other Candy-crazed countries from releasing their own questionably-legal Candy merchandise, and right now the only way to see Candy Candy is through gray-market DVD sets with foreign dubs or iffy subtitles in three languages. Of course, here in the new age Candy Candy can be seen in various languages on the YouTubes, but streaming video is a convenient but temporary solution.  Will this embargo ever be lifted?  Will the three-way legal struggle ever be resolved to allow Candy Candy to once again return to and from Pony’s Home, to seek happiness and fulfillment wherever she can? One thing’s for sure; the melodramatic journey of Candice White Adley is far from over.

special thanks to my Candy friends James, Neil, and Dylan, and of course the hardworking staff at Pony's Home, La Porte, Indiana. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

the return of prince planet manga

Remember a couple years back when we posted some translated pages of Yusei Shonen Papii (aka Prince Planet) manga from the 1960s? Remember how those pages were scanned out of a tattered, yellowing 1965 issue of Kobunsha's Shonen and we figured we'd never see any more Prince Planet manga?  Well, we were wrong. Recently Japan's manga industry smiled on us and released a two-volume set of Yusei Shonen Papii manga.

This of course, allows us to enjoy the manga adventures of Yusei Shonen Papii, Riko, Strong, Adji Baba, and that doofus on Radion who keeps forgetting to keep Prince Planet's medallion powered up. You had ONE JOB, fella. This manga also enables us to present the next chapter in our exciting Prince Planet manga adventure! So sit back, try to remember where we were when we left off - and to read from right to left - and enjoy!


Thanks to Kayt for shipping these over and to Rick for the translations and to the planet Radion, without which any of this would have been necessary. Stay tuned to your local UHF station, or Let's Anime, for upcoming Prince Planet news!