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The Heroic Legend of Arslan Volumes 1 & 2 (Kodansha)

When I was in high school, anime didn’t occupy the corner of the media landscape it does today. It was certainly gaining a foothold thanks to weekly broadcasts of certain high profile direct to video features and movies on the Sci-Fi Channel and daily doses of VoltronRobotechDragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, but we were still firmly in the era of fansub tape trading and commercial releases carrying two, maybe three episodes of a TV series if you were lucky. I still vividly remember buying Neon Genesis Evangelion two episodes at a time for months on end, and buying it dubbed into English because those tapes were five to ten dollars cheaper.

There were a few other anime fans I knew in town, and one in particular who rode the same bus home that I did. He was a big, funny guy who had a vast library of anime series and films at his disposal, all duplicated in Extended Play from tapes he’d rented from our local anime shop. I can’t remember what all he loaned to me over the years; I’m fairly certain that’s how I first filled the gaps I had in the original Tenchi Muyo series, and I know that’s how I saw the first season of Ranma 1/2 and one of my all-time favorites, the first series of El Hazard: The Magnificent World. But next to El Hazard, one of my absolute favorite things he loaned me was The Heroic Legend of Arslan, a gorgeously animated fantasy adventure based on, I would later find out, a series of novels by Legend of the Galactic Heroes author Yoshiki Tanaka. I’m usually not drawn to fantasy stories, but the ornate armor stylings, lavishly garbed and beautiful character designs, and hauntingly lovely musical score enchanted me, and the English dubbed version by Manga UK was well cast and perfectly watchable. In those days most of what we were getting in the States were movies and short direct to video series, so when after four episodes (the last two of which were kind of shabby around the edges) it just sort of trailed off it was irritating but not unexpected. Two more episodes would make it to the states a few years later, but the animation had gotten worse, the English language cast had been replaced with lousy domestic sound-alikes with bad phony English accents, and the story still was far from resolved. Continue reading

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Thirty years melting away in a handful of purchases.

Guys, if I’m being completely honest with you, I’ve spent most of the past few years in a pretty lousy funk that’s made getting any non-essential work (read: anything I wasn’t getting paid to do) pretty difficult. Unemployment isn’t making it any better; I spent a couple of days this past week so gripped by a mix of anger, despair, and frustration that I barely left my bed. Next week I’m going to try to make an extra effort to get up early, seize the day, and all that sort of positive thinking guff, because I have quite a list of things I’d really like to do with my non-job-hunting time — and if I do this right, the first fruit of that should probably hit the blog on Monday. But for now, I’m just going to leave you with this image of three currently available Transformers figures standing together that made me realize just how hard Hasbro’s hitting one particular nostalgia button this year.

One you’ve already seen on the blog, the Insecticon Bombshell in the bottom corner; the other two I might’ve mentioned on Twitter, but if you’re my pal on Facebook you’ve definitely seen that I got my hands on these guys — the new Leader-class Megatron and Deluxe-class Stunticon Dragstrip. Last year Hasbro was making a real effort to celebrate all three decades of Transformers, but the agenda this year seems to be “let’s just act as if it’s 1985 again.” Given that I was four years old in 1985 and reasonably happy, and here in 2015 I’m turning thirty-four and I’m really not happy at all, I am A-OK with sitting on the floor with a handful of Evil Decepticons and making believe for a few moments that it’s thirty years ago all over again.

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But only for a few moments. Nostalgia will only get you so far in life. If you spend all your life focusing on the good times behind you, you’re probably never going to see any good times ahead — right?

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If we’re all very good, we might get a new DANCOUGAR release out of this, so respect the pink-haired girl cartoon.

Over on ye olde ROBOTECH tumblr of all things, I’ve taken a moment to highlight William Winckler Productions’s new digital download release of the first four episodes FAIRY PRINCESS MINKY MOMO on Amazon’s Instant Video service.

“Why in heaven’s name would you do that THERE of all places?”

Well, as I explain there (visit the link for more details), it’s apparently based on a 1984-copyrighted Harmony Gold English dubbed version of the show that HGUSA was trying to get off the ground around the same time as they were doing ROBOTECH; in fact, it features a number of voice actors who you’d recognize from ROBOTECH. (It also strikes me as something that should have been on Nickelodeon in 1989 right between NOOZLES and MAYA THE BEE. Very similar vibe in look, story, and English adaptation.) Despite the Winckler release using the original Japanese series name, the dub renames the main character “Gigi,” which it not only has in common with Harmony Gold’s later dub of one of the MINKY MOMO original video releases in ’87 (released as GIGI AND THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH, a mainstay of rental stores and the Kay Bee Toys video section all through the 1990s), but also other dubbed versions across Europe, which all apparently used the Harmony Gold version as a jumping-off point despite the fact that it never aired in its home territory.

I love seeing older anime released in the States, especially when there’s a bit of a story behind it and a vintage dub that had been lost to the ages involved, so this whole situation has me tickled in the same way that Discotek’s LUPIN III: MYSTERY OF MAMO having four different English versions on it does. If you can get past the sickly-sweetness of it — hey, it’s an old cartoon for tiny girls, that comes with the territory — and some rough acting in the first episode, it’s a very well made show that I can’t stop describing as rather charming. The only thing you might find to be a stumbling block is that it is priced at about what you probably would have paid for a VHS of the thing shelved right next to that GIGI AND THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH tape, a cool $14.99. If you’re a nut for this kind of stuff like me and want to take the plunge, you can find it here on Amazon.

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It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.

For the last week and a half or so, every couple of nights I’ve had the same dream over and over again. I’m at work. The big blowout sale is done. There’s still plenty of product on the walls, but it does look picked over. At my manager’s word the giant red and yellow signs in the windows come down and business is poised to go back to normal. There’s rebuilding to be done, staff to hire, and hopefully corporate will do something about the fact that we’re low on things to sell, but we made it.

Of course, that’s not what happened at all. Two weeks ago now my workplace for almost three years, Pittsburg’s RadioShack store, shut its doors for the last time. The last time I was there all the product was gone, the register computers had been disassembled and boxed up, the counters had been shoved into a corner, and a pickup truck was tearing out of the side parking lot with one of our discarded Verizon cell phone displays. About a week ago the building’s owner put “FOR LEASE” signs in the windows, making the situation all the more real. Six and a quarter years working for this company were finally at an end. Continue reading

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The Big Three-Oh, Part 1.

This week ROBOTECH, that love-it-or-hate-it gestalt adaptation of 1982’s beloved classic SUPER DIMENSION FORTRESS MACROSS and two largely less beloved yet stylistically similar shows of a likewise similar vintage (1983’s GENESIS CLIMBER MOSPEADA and, my personal favorite, 1984’s SUPER DIMENSION CAVALRY SOUTHERN CROSS), officially turned thirty years old. Thirty is, the way I see it, the first nice round anniversary that’s celebrated mostly as a marketing thing. Ten feels like an accomplishment. When a series turns ten and you’ve got people excited to celebrate that anniversary it means that series has some kind of genuine staying power. Twenty is another decade and a whole fifth of a century — if we’re still talking about this show, then that staying power really isn’t ginned up. Then you celebrate twenty-five because that’s a QUARTER of a century. that REALLY feels like something, even though it’s just five more years. But five more years later? We made a big deal about this five years ago AND ten years ago. Maybe we can just cool it ’til fifty, if any of us are still in a mood to celebrate then. But no, in this particular case Harmony Gold completely failed to make a big deal during the twenty-fifth back in 2010, either rattled by the death of series visionary Carl Macek that same year or displaying the severe lack of planning ability that has characterized the current regime’s running of the franchise since around the release of their second major console video game, ROBOTECH: INVASION, so they seem rather intent on turning this into a thirtieth to remember to wash away the stench of that missed opportunity five years ago.

For their part, Toynami, ROBOTECH’s toy licensee for the past decade and a half, are likewise making up for missed opportunities with a full range of product, some of which I talked about right after the New York Toy Fair. Today we’ll be looking at what I believe to be the first product they’ve released with the cleverly designed ROBOTECH 30th Anniversary branding, a new production run of their venerable 1/100 scale VF-1 Valkyrie mold, released for the first time at mass retail under the ROBOTECH name. (While there was a convention exclusive “Stealth” redeco of the VF-1S bearing the ROBOTECH logo, previous mass retail releases have borne the Japanese SUPER DIMENSION FORTRESS MACROSS logo.) Continue reading