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

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.

What I’ve Been Watching, Winter 2015 Edition

Those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter wouldn’t know this, but I’ve actually been watching a number of anime series, both old and new, this season. I actually kind of picked the habit back up last year, when Space Dandy was making its first run on Cartoon Network’s Saturday late-night Toonami block, but thanks to some old favorite creators getting back on the horse, some shows I remember liking OK returning after absences (some of a few months, others of several years), and a decision to finally burn through some of those backlogged DVD & Blu Ray box sets I’ve bought from so many Right Stuf holiday sales, I’ve actually got quite a list going right now. Today I’ll be sharing five of those shows with you and letting you know whether or not you should be joining me in inviting these shows into my eyeballs. Continue reading

This is me crossing another dusty old robot show off my bucket list.

NOT EVEN JUSTICE, I WANT TO GET TRUTH!

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Long-time friends, followers, and readers probably recall my strong affection for Armored Trooper Votoms, a fifty-two episode mecha anime from Sunrise studio directed and created by one Ryosuke Takahashi, the gentleman who directed most of Sunrise’s fondly remembered robot cartoons of the 1980s that weren’t directed by Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino. Takahashi’s Votoms is a gloomy, bitter robot cartoon full of shady characters and corruption, soaked in acid rain and blood. At least, that’s how it starts, opening with a dreary urban setting that reminds me of a more run down Blade Runner before moving to an equally miserable jungle planet that might as well be called Space Vietnam; clearly that’s the war that Takahashi and company are in a mood to evoke, as that stretch of the show opens with the most obvious Apocalypse Now homage imaginable. The show’s robots are fragile tools that may have a certain character, but they are not characters in the way that previous robot cartoons’ robots were. They’re disposable, interchangeable, and absent for episodes at a time. The true focus of the show is one man army Chirico Cuvie, a quiet, terse young man betrayed by his comrades, falsely accused by his government, and skilled only in the art of combat. He’s a different breed from the bright young heroes who came before him, a harder hero for a harder cosmos.

Where Votoms is a damaged butterfly of a show, Takahashi’s previous effort, 1981’s Fang of the Sun Dougram (co-directed with Takeyuki Kanda, who would also go on to direct his own Sunrise robot show in ’83, Round Vernian Vifam) appears to be the gauntlet-like chrysalis it emerged from. As of this writing I’ve watched eighteen of its seventy-five episodes (yes, seventy-five episodes) that aired from October 1981 to March of ’83, and I can see how it stands as an important evolutionary step between Tomino’s Gundam and both Votoms and even Zeta Gundam. It’s also enjoyable viewing, if a bit slow at times and also possessed of a lead character who spends a very long time being frustratingly naive.

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Protocultural Artifacts: Dana & Zor

Matchbox Dana Sterling & Zor Prime (1986) sitting at the feet of the Playmates Veritech Hover Tank (1995) & Bioroid Invid Fighter (1994).

Hovertanks and Bioroids are supposed to be approximately the same height. Also, Dana Sterling and Zor Prime are supposed to be at least reasonably attractive people. The folks at Matchbox seem to have missed both of those memos.