Saturday, December 22, 2007

merry SSX-Mas!!

Even in deep space as the mighty space battleship Arcadia ventures deep into the unknown reaches of the universe, the burning desire for freedom raging within Captain Harlock and his spaceship engineer pal Tochiro Oyama...

... even in deep space, Christmas is still a time of joy and wonder for children of all ages, as we find that the magic of the season can turn the bulkheads of a pirate ship into a scene of holiday festivities.

Tochiro, Tadashi, and the little girl Revi show just how casual interstellar travel has become by decorating a Christmas tree while plying the empty wastes between planets in this scene from 1982's Eternal Orbit SSX episode 10 - "Snowfall In The Sea Of Stars". Also, Tochiro imagines himself as Santa Claus, which is cute.

Even the evil space invaders the Illumidas are getting into the Christmas act, as we see them celebrate by participating in their most sacred rituals- drinking in bars accompanied by blonde escorts.

Happy Holidays to everyone, whether you're in outer space or safe at home, whether you're a green space alien or a one-eyed space pirate! See you in 2008!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

anime journalism circa 1987

This article originally appeared in the July 26, 1987 issue of IMAGE, some sort of Bay Area based publication. I somehow obtained a photocopy of this article and subsequently reprinted it in the C/FO Atlanta Newsletter, which appeared in the winter of 1987. It’s an interesting look at American media beginning to discover Japanese animation, as well as a glimpse of what fandom was like at the time.

From IMAGE, July 26 1987

Japanimation: Creating A World Without Smurfs

The room is filled with punk teenagers sitting silently. All their attention is focused on the large TV screen, where elegantly drawn cartoon characters move with a fluid energy that rivals reality. After countless battles, Space Pirate Captain Harlock has returned to earth, only to watch the woman he loves die in his arms. Sniffling sounds are audible. Even the kid with the Mohawk has tears on his cheek.

“It affected people,” recalls Owen Hannifen. With his wife, Eclare, he runs the Japanese Animation Archives in San Francisco, where the screening was held. “I teared up at that scene the first time I saw it, too- and I hadn’t cried at any animation since Bambi’s mama bit the big one.”

The artistic quality and complex, no-holds-barred plots of what is called “Japanimation” has brought it rising popularity in America. A few recognizably Japanese cartoons such as Robotech, dubbed into English, are broadcast regularly in San Francisco, but many people watch Japanimation without knowing it; more than half of the cartoons with American characters and plots are drawn by Japanese animators. And San Franscisco is now the home of what Owen believes is the nation’s only archive of Japanese animation.

The Hannifens, whose love affair with comic books dates back twenty years, realized in 1985 that they were sitting on a gold mine; a private collection of 5,000 Japanese comics and animation books and 1,000 hours of taped animation. So they decided to open their library to the public. In addition to the tapes and comics, the archives contain more than 200 records and compact discs, both animation background music and songs composed especially to read Japanese comic books by.

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To visit JAA, located in their home, is to enter another world. Every available space, from the walls to the knickknack shelves to the TV screen, is brightened by Japanese cartoon characters. When Owen sits down to give a rambling discourse on Japanimation, a different story line seems to slip in every time he tries to make a point. He illustrates one tale by revealing a Captain Harlock tattoo on his arm. He will gladly show visitors whatever Japanimation tickles their fancy, from comedy to soft-core porn.

The Hannifens started videotaping in 1976 when a local TV station broadcast Yuusha Raideen, one of the seminal giant-robot shows. “We said, ‘My my, my, this is certainly different from Huckleberry Hound,’” Owen says. “Unlike American animation, which has silly animals doing silly things with dead comedians’ voices, Raideen used a multiplane camera and good music. We taped every episode religiously.”

While anyone can visit the archives, the Hannifens are trying to make it self-supporting by charging a $25 membership fee ($15 for students and senior citizens). There are about 150 JAA members, who get access to the archives, discounts on comic books and related merchandise and some free copying services.

Owen sums up the reason Americans prefer Japanese animation in a word: “Quality. In Japan animators are considered artists. They have their own fan clubs. Even the voice actors have fan clubs.”

Appointments to visit the Japanese Animation Archives can be made by contacting the Hannifens at PO Box 4151, San Francisco CA 94101; (phone number deleted)

Owen Hannifen passed away in 2000 after a long and colorful career in California fandom.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Anime on CED

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During the Format Wars of the 70s and 80s the struggle was on between VHS and Beta. But other format battles raged in the background. One such format was Capacitance Electronic Disc, or CED. Known also under its brand name of RCA Selectavision, it was a unique system that used a metal disc. Image and sound were recorded on the disc electronically and read by the stylus, like a needle on an LP record on that turntable gathering dust in your attic. The discs were housed in plastic cases that slid in and out of the player. The resulting product delivered a picture superior to then-current videotape with crystal-clear fast forwards and rewinds. Unfortunately, this media was non-recordable, which meant you can’t tape your soaps or Johnny Carson. So the CED system coughed, sputtered, and died. Today you can find the discs in thrift stores and antique malls across North America, presenting a cross section of American film circa 1978-1983, sold by people who think they’re laserdiscs, bought by people who think they’re valuable collectors items.

At any rate, this is a blog about Japanese cartoons so we’ve got to work the things in here somewhere. So here goes! After years of research and excavation, ANIME ON CED is proud to present our in-depth exploration of the ENTIRE FIELD of Japanese Animation as released in the CED format. Following is a COMPLETE LIST of anime titles released on CED.


There, that was fun and enlightening, wasn’t it? Start your collection today!

Seriously, I’m pretty sure there are more titles out there, but these two are the only ones I personally own. So therefore, review.

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THE WIZARD OF OZ, at least the 1982 Toho version we’re talking about here, is one of at least three different versions of Oz animated in Japan. This version features the voice and singing of Aileen Quinn, who had just finished her role as “Little Orphan Annie” in the musical and film of the same name. Also notable in the voice cast is Lorne Greene as The Wizard. Aileen belts out a few numbers and generally is the most bombastic thing about this lackluster production. The animation is jerky, the character designs are nothing to write home about, and Dorothy has a gigantic head. Seriously, I know anime characters have big heads, but her head is huge. Her giant blank eyes and unfortunate choices in lipstick shade make Dorothy a freakish doll-faced spectacle, even next to the cartoony Tin Man and a foppish, dreadlocked Scarecrow.

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Having never read the Oz books, I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling this film sticks a little closer to the original story than the MGM film. If you’re an Oz fan, this film should probably cement over a few holes in your collection, and if you’re a fan of Japanese animation oddities on weird dead formats then what are you waiting for? I once saw dozens of sealed VHS copies of this film in a Goodwill, so it can’t be too hard to find.

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, on the other hand, is a much more entertaining movie. This 1974 co-production is like the animation styles of three continents stuck into a blender, whipped into a fine puree, and spread over groovy 1970s toast. Directed by Gisaburo “Night On The Galactic Railroad” Sugii, this winning fairy tale was created by Mushi Productions veterans who worked on things like Astro Boy and Cleopatra Queen Of Sex and would go on to things like Glass Mask and Death Note. We all know the story – Jack, magic beans, beanstalk, giant, grinding bones to make bread, singing harp, treasure,etc.- but this film throws in an entire supporting cast of dogs, mice, princesses, and evil queens that turn the movie from yet another animated children’s film into an enjoyable experience in its own right. (a full review is online at Anime Jump.)

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The character designs betray the film’s global origins; Jack and his fellow ground-dwellers have a real European cartoon look, a Peyo-style roundness that makes you want to buy Kinder eggs or buy Eurorail passes, while the cloud castle princess has a definite anime character style and her subjects are day players from Princess Knight episodes. The evil witch, on the other hand, is Disney Evil Witch all the way.

Turns out Princess Margaret of Top Of Beanstalk Land has been hypnotized by the evil Hecuba, who is going to marry Margie off to her son, the giant Tulip. Yeah, that’s his name. Poor Jack, voiced by Billie Lou “Astro Boy” Watt, climbs up the beanstalk with his faithful canine companion Crosby (??) just in time to learn Hecuba has turned the citizens of cloud-land into Disney Cinderella mice. Befriending the princess (voiced by Corinne “Trixie” Orr), Jack makes it back home with the treasure, but his conscience and a stirring song by his previously silent dog convince him to climb back up and set things right. There’s a trippy sequence where Hecuba bends the laws of time and space, some exciting up and downstairs castle chasing action as Tulip rages after the pair, and after a few songs it’s back down the beanstalk, go get the axe. One of the film’s outstanding scenes is the wedding between Tulip & the princess – since the citizenry has been turned into mice, Hecuba fills the pews and pulpit with blank-faced paper dolls she animates through magic. It’s a creepy sequence with real dread.

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The film’s music ranges from wigged-out psychedelic jam guitar to a portentious tune that suspiciously resembles Caiphas’s theme from “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Hecuba applies mind-control makeup to the Princess in a scene that now has serious lesbian overtones thanks to wah-wah porno background music. The movie never misses a chance to throw in a song and while some of them are clumsy (Jack and the giant sing a duet as they chase each other) they’re all fun.

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It’s available on DVD from Hen's Tooth Video - scroll down (the guys that brought us Hawk The Slayer), but for the purposes of this column let’s just pretend it’s another example of Anime On CED. So far we have a fairy tale and Oz adaption #345; not exactly representative of the field of Japanese animation as a whole. If you know of any other Anime On CED releases, contact Let’s Anime!

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Goodbye, Prince Tulip! Gooooodbyyyyyyyyeeeeeee!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

the fake Nadia episode guide

(this fake episode guide originally appeared in LET’S ANIME #1, published in 1992. It is completely false in every way, and was written because anime fandom at the time simply could not shut up about that stupid show. Of course nowadays nobody remembers it at all. Ha ha.)


Editor’s note: In order to conform to a little-known provision of the recent nuclear arms proliferation treaties with the Soviet Union, it has been decided that every Japanese anime fanzine MUST feature an episode guide to the recent NHK anime series ‘Nadia in the Mysterious Ocean’s Blue Waters of the Sea of Questionable Mystery Challenge of the $23,000 Pyramid”, that lovable series that captured the hearts of lonely Miyazaki wannabes everywhere. So, in order to do our part to bring about World Peace and Niceness, here we go.


In Paris, 1888, nothing happens.

One year later, during the 1889 Paris World’s Exposition, a young inventor named Jean-Claude van Paul-Jacques-Louis Robespierre Napoleon XVIII, along with his aging mentor “Pops” Racer, sail up the Seine in a rented barge, eager to attend the latest meeting of the Paris chapter of the “Man Was Never Meant To Fly” club and show off their newest anti-flying machine. Meanwhile, the Impressionist painter Claude Monet awakens with intestinal gas pains and decides not to attend the Exposition after all, which is good since he isn’t in this series anyway. Taking a break from the hilarious festivities of men who never meant to fly, Jean-Paul visits the Eiffel Tower and meets a mysterious young girl named Nadia Skywalker, sole possessor of a powerful mysterious gem of mystery and danger, the Hope Diamond. However, she trades the Hope in for another gem, the “Blue Water Of 1000 Flushes”. Nadia is also the last descendant of the royal family of the lost city of Laputa, and as such is being chased by the evil government agent Special Mooska (oops, wrong show)… is the last descendant of the lost city of ATLANTIS, and is being chased by special agent 0073 Grandes “Chesty” Morgan and her two henchmen Inky and Dinky. In a fierce confrontation atop the Eiffel Tower, Nadia runs away.

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The very next day Nadia is captured by Grandes in her big transforming Japanese robot, but is rescued by Jean, who points out quite rightly in a line later edited from the final version that the things haven’t even been invented yet.

Meanwhile, Nikolai Tesla discovers that strange radio emissions from the planet Mars are interrupting his weekly recordings of the broadcasts of Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40”.

Rerun of episode one.


Due to the rerun it was never shown, but in episode two it was revealed that Nadia, actually the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary in disguise, was trying to keep the beginning of the First World War on schedule by sending compromising photographs of British Prime Minister Palmerston to the New York Daily Post. As WWI begins on schedule twenty five years later, it seems to have worked. Meanwhile the nuclear submarine Polaris destroys Grandes’ mechanical device, forcing her to rely on her backup mecha, a Gundam Mark II, to capture Nadia and return her to the Czechoslovakian Olympic Gymnastics Team in time to humiliate the Americans at the 1976 Olympics. However, Jean-Claude Debussy renders the Gundam suit useless by sending it repeated transmissions of public service announcements by the President’s Commission On Physical Fitness. Meanwhile, a young Mary Lou Retton watches in horror.

Captain Nemo, owner of a large seafood restaurant chain, gets disgusted with bad table manners and decides to retaliate with his very own atomic sub. He captures Nadia and Jean-John as they vacation at Club Med, and plans to use the Blue Water to increase tourist attendance at the “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” ride at Disneyworld, but is told by an irate Michael Eisner to “go soak his head.” Meanwhile in Vienna, a young Adolph Hitler warns the Academy if they don’t let him study painting, he’ll start World War Two.

Later, Jean forgets to tie his shoe, trips over the lace, and dies, but is revived by Nadia and the Blue Water gem.

This is a rerun of episode two, which was a rerun of episode one. New scenes of Nixon’s resignation speech are added to up the ratings.

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In 1991 Tokyo, NHK screenwriters Haro Genki and Hawaya Nistamicha are fired for their atrocious pun. Meanwhile back in 1889 Europe, Russia and Japan begin the Russo-Japanese War twelve years ahead of schedule, completely pre-empting the Spanish-American War. This forces William Randolph Hearst to fill his newspapers with old reprints of excerpts from Issac Asimov’s autobiography. Disgusted with the print medium, the American public waits impatiently for the miracle of television. On board the Nautilus, Electra discovers she is pregnant, which is curious since she doesn’t have sex until episode 22. This is news to Captain Nemo, who has been busy attacking the South Pacific Lodge of the Benevolent And Protective Order Of Special Mooses, to gain control of their valuable supplies of cheap imitation gimmicks, not to mention gee-gaws, knick-knacks, and bric-a-brac. Meanwhile in Boston, Jean and Nadia open a small boutique, which does well until it’s destroyed by Grandes and her pals Chester and Joe in their new mecha, the SDF-1 Macross.

In the ensuing battle Jean trips over a speed bump and dies, but Nadia brings him back to life with the secret powers of the Blue Water gem and a good five cent fountain Coca-Cola.

Reruns of episodes #1 and #2 edited together with clips from the 1991 TV movie “Knight Rider 2000” along with highlights of recent episodes of “America’s Funniest Home Videos”. Hosted by Lorne Green and special musical guests, the Judds.

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Grandes discovers her investments in IBM stock and Hartford Mutual have led to holdings of over ten million francs, which in real money is about twelve dollars. Incensed, she attacks Jean and Nadia, now living in a ramshackle apartment in Duluth, with both the Grandizer and Great Mazinger robots, but is staggered with Jean counterattacks by revealing his true identity of Devilman and ripping her head off, in the process discovering that Grandes was really Count Decapita in drag, the real Grandes being on vacation.

Meanwhile on board the Nautilus Electra gives birth to twins, discovering that she was merely the surrogate mother to embryos which are the love children of Jackie Onassis and former New York Yankees shortstop and Money Store spokesman Phil Rizzuto. Electra gives them up for adoption and promises to pay more attention to her reproductive organs next time.

Captain Nemo, searching for his lost tube of moustache wax, discovers a laser-disc of the Doris Wishman film “Bad Girls Go To Hell”. This he uses in his attack against the North Atlantic chapter of the Liberace fan club, which retaliates by transmitting episodes of “Dark Shadows” with annoying audio drops happening about every ten seconds. Since television has yet to be invented, neither side is harmed.

Jean falls off a moving U-Haul truck, breaks his neck, and dies, but Nadia revives him with the Blue Water gem and several kilos of pure, uncut hashish.

These episodes were replaced by reruns of episodes three, seven, nine, and sixteen, edited together and introduced by Sally Jesse Raphael, with a new soundtrack by the Bay City Rollers.

This is actually an episode of “Rat Patrol” with voices from “Secret Of Blue Water” dubbed over; the result of a night of heavy drinking over at Streamline Pictures. In Japan this was replaced by reruns of “Fairy Princess Minky Momo” with voices dubbed in from “Fist Of The North Star” and introduced by the cast of “Kamen Rider Super-One” and Carl Macek’s brother Skippy The Glow Attorney.

Nadia, revealed as Princess Anastasia of the royal family of Imperial Russia, escapes the Bolshevik Revolution by not being there; her alterations shop in the rear of JC Penneys in Bossier City Louisiana is destroyed when Grandes and the entire cast of “Urusei Yatsura”, brainwashed into believing that Nadia is actually Madoka from “Orange Road”, attack with giant robots from “Dougram”, “L. Gaim”, “Xabungle”, and “Psycho Armor Govarion, in the process completely wrecking the Pecanland Mall. Nadia escapes in a Federal Express truck, while Jean rams a Lockheed C-5A cargo jet into Grandes’ Cross Your Heart bra, causing a massive atomic explosion. The secret society of “guys with pointy masks” attacks the Nautilus, destroying it completely, which depresses Captain Gloval (whoops, wrong show) Captain NEMO, until he realizes that he’s got another one safe at home in the garage.

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After the nuclear blast, Jean trips on a pebble and dies; Nadia revives him with the Blue Water gem and several back issues of “The Stark Fist Of Removal.”


The entire remnant of the continent of Atlantis, along with the secret society of “guys with pointy masks” and the Omaha chapter of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization, attacks Nadia, Jean, and the Nautilus with a robot double of Nadia’s long lost twin brother Shecky, who recites bad poetry and has questionable table manners. Jean takes a 75-millimeter howitzer blast to the sternum and dies, but is revived by Nadia and the Blue Water gem along with a free trial subscription to National Geographic Magazine. The Nautilus becomes a transforming robot that is subsequently taken over by Grandes, who, in her new Maidenform bra, dreams she conquers the world, until her companions Frank and Steve thwart her plans by declaring their undying love for each other and purchasing a condo together.

Jean uses his new flying machine to escape the battle but is shot down and killed by a particle beam fired from an orbiting “Star Wars” death-ray laser. However, Nadia revives him with the Blue Water gem and a coupon for fifty cents off any dessert item at Dairy Queen, while supplies last. Deros from the Hollow Earth, along with their Aluminum Nazi Hell Creature allies, attach the remnants of the Mu continent civilization, and America and Spain decide to go ahead and hold the Spanish-American War.

Captain Nemo shaves his head in preparation for auditioning for the job of Captain Picard’s stand-in on “Star Trek”, while Electra stands around and makes snide observations, all the while unaware that she has been secretly impregnated with the offspring of former Secretary Of The Treasury Bert Lance and “Hee-Haw” star Minnie Pearl.

In a shocking finale, the Earth is blown off its axis by “powerful magnetic weapons much more powerful than atomic bombs”, which raise the sea level and kill everyone on Earth instantly, including Jean. However, Nadia lives, and using the Blue Water gem and several acts not suitable for publication in a family magazine, she brings Jean back to life, and together they become the Adam and Eve of a new mankind. The end.

Wow! What a fantastically original and innovative show! Truly a pleasure to watch, especially the famous scene in episode #18 where the giant robot “Bob” Dobbs is hurled off the cliff by the force of the exploding bananas. How we laughed!

Rumor has it that the Gainax gang is hard at work on a sequel, tentatively titled “Nadia II – Secret Of The Blue Ooze”, featuring previously unreleased footage from the first series, edited together with film of the Kennedy assassination and the 1968 Elvis “comeback” TV special. We can hardly wait!!!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Anime, Pat Robertson, Mazinger Z, and... YOU!

Cable TV in the 80s was kinda strange. Lots of national channels + not a lot of programming = strangeness. USA Network was running the bizarro hippy punker clip-show extravaganza Night Flight, Discovery Channel would occasionally show entire days worth of Russian television, and everything was liable to be interrupted by local ads shoehorned in by your mom & pop cable TV service. And of course everywhere there was Japanese animation! If you weren’t watching 90 minute compliations of Force Five episodes or Thunderbirds 2086 episodes on Showtime, you were catching Belle & Sebastian or Mysterious Cities Of Gold in between Tomorrow People marathons on Nickelodeon. And if you were particularly hard core you would watch Superbook and Flying House - the Japanese anime Bible cartoons – on Pat “700 Club” Robertson’s CBN network.

To be honest, CBN got a lot of mileage out of anime. Screening the two Christian cartoons is a natural, but they also ran the compilation films for Voltes V and Starbirds (the English dub of Fighting General Daimos). And if you were alert or un-hung-over enough to be watching TV at noon on Sunday, you might catch two of my favorites – Honey Honey and Leo The Lion.

Both dubbed by some Florida outfit called “Sonic International”, they seem to be odd choices to run on cable in the 80s – a shojo comedy set in 1910 and a violent talking-animal cartoon from the late 60s? – but trying to figure out the actions of television executives is a fruitless task. The important thing is that Honey Honey, based on the manga by shojo manga-ka pioneer Hideko Mizuno (who would later go on to pen the groundbreaking rock’n’roll manga FIRE) is a charming and frequently wacky series that is a minor gem. The original 1966 manga by Hideko Mizuno was published in RIBON (“Princess”) MAGAZINE, but the anime series would not air until 1981. What’s up with that?

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Young teenage orphan Honey Honey, making ends meet in Austria in the early part of the last century, befriends a small white cat named Lily. As a result of this friendship Honey Honey finds herself pursued literally around the world by Princess Flora of Austria, Flora's four ethnic-stereotype suitors, and the mysterious thief Phoenix. And Phoenix’s cat.

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Turns out Lily swallowed the famous gem the Star Of The Amazon, the possession thereof being the one condition pursuant to marrying Princess Flora. Over the next 25 episodes we see auto chases, UFOs, sultans, samurai, Viking warriors, spies, crooks, Robin Hood, circuses, storms at sea, ninjas, King Kong, you name it. It’s a whirlwind of a show that mixes slapstick with romance, and the English dub is amateurish but spirited. The animation by Kokusei Eiga varies from mediocre to amazing – there’s one episode that rivals anything else on TV at the time - but mostly the show is typical television quality.

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Six episodes of the show were released on home video by Sony in various formats including Beta and 8mm. VHS copies occasionally show up on eBay and local video stores, so keep your eyes open. Honey Honey’s rights are currently owned by Enoki Films – one of our farsighted American outfits should contact them, release the show on DVD, and make us all happy.

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CBN’s other Sunday anime powerhouse is Leo The Lion, which of course is Tezuka’s sequel to Jungle Emperor/Kimba The White Lion, based on Tezuka’s classic manga series from the late 1950s. After he produced the first 1965 series (Japan’s first color TV cartoon!) under NBC’s guidelines, Tezuka went on to produce Leo (original title “Susume Leo”) staying closer to his original manga. This means continuing storylines, darker themes, and lots of animal-on-animal action complete with defenestrations, impalings, contusions, beheadings, shotgunnings, etc.

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Leo (you may remember this white lion under his childhood name of “Kimba”) and his wife Leia (“Kitty”) defend the jungle and raise their two children Runi and Ruki . There are the occasional episodes of whimsical comedy – the James Bond spoof episode in particular – but for the most part this series is a lot darker and less “fun” than Kimba. It’s not surprising NBC would take a pass on this one, I can’t see it getting past the watchdog moms of 60s America. Of course 20 years later CBN either has no problem with it, or what’s more likely, has no idea they’re running a cartoon show in which a blind Masai warrior has his arm ripped off by a tribe of evil leopards.

Leo has been released on cheap public-domain home video several times, mostly in shoddy EP VHS tapes that contain edited versions of the episodes. Buyer beware! This is another series that deserves a decent DVD set as a companion to Right Stuf’s Kimba release.

And the CBN anime story doesn’t end there! Before Honey Honey and Leo, CBN ran the weekly Japanese current affairs news program Beyond The Horizon. Occasionally overstepping the boundaries of traditionally defined “news”, Beyond The Horizon would fill up its airtime with 12-minute half-episodes of the 1972 Toei giant robot show Mazinger Z. This mysteriously-dubbed version of the super robot classic featured the infamous English-language theme songs sung phonetically by Isao Sasaki.

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Luckily anime fan seneschal Steve Harrison taped the things with his top-loading mono wired-remote VHS deck, capturing this artifact for posterity. But why would a news program run a children’s robot cartoon? Cultural background? Entertainment industry context? Time-filler for slow news days? Only Pat Robertson knows, and he ain’t tellin’.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

anime comics

Back before filesharing, before DVDs, even before cheap VHS tapes, anime fans had it tough. How could we experience Japanese cartoons beyond the once-weekly television schedule? The problem was solved in Japan by several different means - Roman Albums about Yamato or Harlock or Gundam, the five or six monthly magazines like Animage devoted to anime movies and TV shows, and of course comics and toys and stationery and t-shirts and menko cards and the rest of the gigantic merchandising industry that churned out colorful junk that we in the States could only wish for. They also had these things called "animation comics".

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Anime Comics were squarebound paperback books with color pages and glossy dust covers. They were comic photo-novels with artwork shot directly from the cel art and dialog added later by underpaid Kodansha employees. For American fans without access to these TV shows or movies, this was almost as good as having the show on videotape. For budding translators the simplified dialog (with "ruby" style kanji aids) was a godsend. Plus you could take them to school and mystify classmates because you had some kind of book that seemed to be full of pictures from that Cliff Hanger videogame from down at the arcade.

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Of course we never thought we'd see anything like this available in English. So when we saw this ad in the Comics Buyers Guide sometime in 1982, we were pretty excited.

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Star Blazers animation comics?? Since the local UHF station was being remarkably unhelpful in re-running the show to allow those of us with VCRs to tape it, this was great news! Books Nippan, the LA outfit supplying anime product to a hungry North America, promoted the release with a full color flyer that featured typos corrected in ball point pen.

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I recall a frustrating delay in the actual arrival of the books. Once they apppeared, they quickly became a staple item on the bookshelf of every anime fan. The artwork was right from the TV series, arranged manga-style with sound effects and dialog set in type. Extras included Yamato production artwork, diagrams, the big cutaway Yamato blueprint illustration... all the stuff we'd pored over in Roman Albums. The dialog was taken directly from the Star Blazers shooting script, odd for a book produced and printed in Japan, but then again West Cape always stood firmly behind their American version of Yamato. They may have not known exactly what to do with it, but behind it they were.

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Nowadays of course with the advent of cheap home video, laserdiscs and especially DVD box sets, the need for photo-novel versions of cartoons has passed. However, back in 1982 these books were the high point of my Star Blazers fandom, at least until I saw this flyer....

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about which more, later.

Monday, November 5, 2007

you know the game of King Kong

A few years back when the Peter Jackson remake of the famous giant ape movie King Kong was released, anime fans got a little bonus in the shape of a DVD release of the 1966 King Kong cartoon. Why anime fans, you say? Because the 1966 King Kong cartoon was a co-production between Toei Animation Company (you know, Sailor Moon, Dragonball, Captain Harlock, Mazinger Z, etc) and Rankin/Bass(you know, the Hobbit, those stop-motion Christmas specials, etc). If you didn't catch the show on ABC in 1967, you might have seen it in syndication on your local UHF station in the afternoons, as I did, along with episodes of Mighty Heroes and Journey To The Center Of The Earth.

At the time of the discs' release I reviewed them for (the now defunct) Anime Jump. This review is now back online here at Let's Anime. What I DIDN'T have at the time was the King Kong board game. Yes, a Milton Bradley board game based on the 1966 cartoon, thanks to a 60s cartoon licensing boom that I missed out on having not yet been born. I'd sighted the game once years before in an antique mall in Georgia and it was stupidly overpriced, so I didn't buy it. Well, yesterday I saw it again and it was NOT stupidly overpriced, so buy it I did.

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The board art features characters from the show - Professor Bond, his children Bobby and Susan, steamer skipper Captain Englehorn, and of course King Kong and that dinosaur he's always fighting. Not pictured is the series' nemesis, the evil Doctor Who. I love that jazzy King Kong logo that never seems to be in the same exact typeface twice. One might surmise it was created by someone for whom English was not their first language, but I'm guessing. But what about the game itself?

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Well, you roll a die and move your Milton Bradley plastic marker around the board, avoiding dangers. Not exactly setting new standards in game play, no.

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Still, the board has some great jazzy 60s graphics of ships and islands and birds and the Various Moods Of King Kong, which can't help but captivate the monster-infatuated youngsters of the 60s. Anyway, the important thing is that I have the game now, and one more example of obsessive-compulsive behavior can be safely put behind me. A double victory!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

gigantor the space age robot

Here's a fun ad from an industry magazine circa 1966, courtesy D.T.

Why not wreak havoc on YOUR competition with Gigantor?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Unico in the Island of DVDs

editors note: this post has been completely revised as of March 2013 to reflect new information.

The cute little unicorn Unico first entered my world thanks to a giant poster for the Columbia videocassette release, prominently displayed in the window of the Record Bar at the local mall. VHS, Record Bar, you know we’re talking 1980s here. I was a mopey teen with a jones for Japanimation in any form and the big-eyed anime style was unmistakable, even across the crowded mall.

Upon closer examination I noticed the “Tezuka Productions” logo on the poster, which gave Unico an anime world pedigree of the finest caliber. The next week the poster was gone from the window, but a word with the manager and that same poster was mine to take home and haul around for the next few decades. 

Unico, of course, is a magical blue unicorn whose only desire is to make people happy. This leads to trouble with the powers-that-be, who happen to be gods. Their wrath sends Unico on a never-ending journey via the gentle spirit of the West Wind, and wherever Unico winds up there’s somebody needing to be made happy, so it all kind of works out.

First serialized in Sanrio’s magazine “Lyrica”, Osamu Tezuka’s original Unico manga is aimed solidly at children, though not without the occasional touch of a socially relevant or moralistic storyline. A later, even simpler version ran in Shogakkukan’s “First Grader”. 

Unico prepares to destroy industrial capitalism

 Sanrio, having animation experience with films like The Mouse And His Child and the Nietzschean survival saga Ringing Bell, co-produced a Unico pilot film in 1979 as the springboard for a possible TV series. The television show didn’t pan out, but a few years later Sanrio would team up with anime studio Madhouse to produce a Unico feature. Like their previous Ringing Bell, the Unico film is a well-animated and surprisingly dark fantasy, with cute characters and humor countered by ominous and at times threateningly dangerous situations, all lushly rendered and strikingly designed. The followup feature, 1983’s Unico In The Island Of Magic, features Moribi “Lensman” Murano’s angular character designs and the haunting threat of living puppets. 

box art for Unico pilot film

Both Unico features are fully realized motion pictures filled with interesting characters, some of whom are devils and others who turn into teenage girls and are seduced by mysterious barons. When things get scary and/or dangerous, Unico himself turns into a giant adult unicorn, perfectly capable of killing the bad guys. Perhaps Unico is, again, like Ringing Bell, maybe a bit intense for younger children.  Regardless, both films received a fairly well-promoted home video release in the United States back in 1984. As a staple of the children's video section, Unico and its Magic sequel did journeyman work as video babysitters for the youngsters who would later grow up, become anime fans, and start to remember this crazy thing they saw when they were kids about a little unicorn. 

Sadly, for years the only way to see Unico was to dig out your old VHS copy. Vaporware outfit “New Galaxy Anime” announced a DVD release but failed to generate anything but a website.  It took Discotek Media to finally return Unico to American audiences with a fine pair of DVDs that feature the Columbia English dubs and the original Japanese language track (with English subtitles). 

Bringing the story of Unico full circle, the original Tezuka manga was recently released in English by Digital Manga, after a successful Kickstarter fundraising campaign. Has America now reached full Unico saturation?  Nope; another short Unico anime film, “Saving Our Fragile Earth,” was produced for the Kyoto Osamu Tezuka World museum. The film is exclusive to the museum, making Kyoto the perfect vacation destination for Unico fans.  See you there!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

all this time...

All this time I'd been thinking the name of this show was "rampoo", but a more accurate translation is "ranpou".

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Imaged ganked from I don't know where, some Japanese site.

It's a show about Ranpou, a crazy kid who invents things along with his pet mouse and they cause trouble at school. I mean wacky 80s anime crazy, which means laser guns that cut down office buildings, giant cockroaches harrassing teachers, and entire episodes that lampoon Captain Harlock, Nausicaa, Future Boy Conan, and Macross, all in 15 minutes. People ask me what kind of anime I'm looking for, this is it, all I have is crappy copies of 2 episodes, somebody buy me the DVDs for Xmas, okay? If there ARE DVDs, which I doubt.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's Big Marine Boy

Not as famous as Astro Boy or as kooky as Speed Racer, Marine Boy was a '60s Japanese cartoon (from Japan Tele-Cartoons aka TV Films) dubbed by the Peter Fernandez/Corinne Orr/Jack Grimes team. Apart from quick glimpses on hotel TVs while on vacation in other markets, I never got to see this show as a kid. Currently languishing in the vaults of Time Warner Turner Whoever, this show really ought to get a proper DVD release (and has, says 2013). Anyway, I bring it up to show you this clipping that D. Thompson found in a 1966 issue of a TV broadcasters magazine:

What's interesting about this article is how Frish's Big Boy Restaurants purchased Marine Boy in Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida markets. Was this a promotional tie-in? Did the Big Boy and Marine Boy ever meet in the pages of those free promo comics? Was there a "Marine Boy Surf And Turf" special on the menu? The mind boggles.

That's a pretty cool Marine Boy illustration up there with the article, pity it isn't in color. Hold on a minute...

And on the back...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the captain harlock archive

One of the things my pal Matt Murray has done, besides making wacky short films as part of the Corn Pone Flicks filmmaking collective, is set up a comprehensive website all about Leiji Matsumoto's space pirate hero, Captain Harlock.

Matt's website covers every anime appearance of Captain Harlock, his spaceship the Arcadia, its crew of willowy girls and potatoheads, the aliens and bureaucrats who try to destroy him, and the various continuities and timelines they all appear in. It also means that I never have to write about Captain Harlock on this blog, I can just point everybody to Matt's website.

For instance, didja know that Harlock's pal Tochiro, the guy who built the Arcadia, has at least three separate, completely different animated death scenes? That there are two Arcadias? That most of Harlock's animated appearances completely contradict each other? It's this kind of incongruity that keeps Matsumoto's work fresh and gives scholars things to argue about for years and years.

So do yourself a favor and check out Matt's Harlock website, if only to learn about "Malibu Graphis" (sic) and their amazingly bad late 80s Harlock video release. Tell 'em Dave sent you!