Sunday, March 3, 2013

1980, Part 2: What Anime Bloggers Would Typically Say About It

(We swear that this is the last section of Daryl Surat's analysis of anime from 1980. Seriously, this is it. He wanted to write about more, but there's absolutely nothing left for him to cover. Nothing. - Ed.)

Now comes the easy part. The stuff you guys know about; the part of 1980 that the Internet anime fan blogging sphere has on their radar thanks to fansubs and disc-based commercial media releases. Did I forget to mention there was a Doraemon movie in the preceding parts, given its Japanese mega-popularity and English-language obscurity? Nah! I just didn’t bother to talk about it because THERE’S ALWAYS A DORAEMON MOVIE. Though not mentioning it did mean I had no place to note that a second TV series was made for one of Fujiko Fujio’s less famous creations, Kaibutsu-kun

No doubt you’ve heard about The Rose of Versailles, courtesy of the prior post for 1979. Justifiably remembered as one of the all-time greats, in mid-February of 1980 the directorial duties shifted over from Tadao Nagahama to Osamu Dezaki. Together with animation director and character designer Akio Sugino, the second half of Versailles has its stumbling points, but the execution of the finale is vital to what makes the series as fondly remembered as it is. It’s on Viki; see for yourself.

“But Daryl, why mention that when it really counts as 1979? Are you going to re-mention everything else that ran over to 1980 too?” I bring it up to illustrate why director Osamu Dezaki and character designer/animation director Akio Sugino got such a fearsome reputation. For concurrently with the TV broadcast of Versailles, the two enjoyed box office success with a compilation movie summarizing their debut collaboration, the 1970 TV series Tomorrow’s Joe. (Unlike today, making compilation movies actually made sense back then, since home media wasn’t established. I’m sure you’ll hear all about the importance of THOSE for 1981!) It wasn’t even their ONLY movie out in theaters, since a mere week after the Joe movie was released Japan was slammed like an unexpected meteor to the roof of their house by the theatrical re-versioning of the Justin Sevakis-est anime of all, Nobody’s Boy Remi, the full series of which is on Hulu. All are well-regarded. This set the foundation for the “magic duo” of Dezaki and Sugino to come rolling out with Tomorrow’s Joe 2 one month after Rose of Versailles concluded. Today, its ending is so iconic that they make it the box cover.

Come 1980 the era of the “super robot” was in its twilight years, but despite 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam the “real robot” revolution would not be for a little while yet. It’s easy to forget that compared to the refocused compilation movies, the original Gundam TV show was a lot more beholden to the classic “enemy of the week” formula. That’s why Sunrise, in the immediate aftermath of Gundam, opted to go with Invincible Robo Trider G7: an unabashedly “super” robot that nonetheless still had more focus on characterization than say, the Toei Animation greats of yesteryear.

Toei Animation, incidentally, released Space Emperor God Sigma in 1980, a by-the-numbers combining-robot series not typically remembered even by many diehard mecha fanatics. Even the mechanical designs by now-legends Kaoru Shintani (Area 88) and Yutaka Izubuchi (director of RahXephon and currently Yamato 2199) don’t particularly leap out as evocative of the general aesthetic of either. Despite this, it at least was able to complete its 50 episode run, while Toei’s other super robot entry for the year, Space Warrior Baldios, was canceled with 5 episodes left to go. A movie would eventually wrap up the story by killing everybody off, but the enduring legacy of Baldios is this guy, the absurd-looking Emperor that’s unceremoniously killed within the first 10 minutes whose visage has cropped up in many a comical Internet image of bygone years.

Let’s face it, if we’re going to talk about the super robot anime from 1980 that got canceled early, only to result in a movie that concluded the story by basically “killing everybody off,” Baldios is just the response you give to be funny. Space Runaway Ideon was Yoshiyuki Tomino’s followup to Mobile Suit Gundam, and for a long time anime fans in the US knew two things about this show: one, it was TOTALLY the inspiration for Neon Genesis Evangelion; two, the ending was that the entire universe gets destroyed. Neither of these statements is all that accurate, and the second one isn’t true at all! Yet despite the fact that the whole shebang is fansubbed, it’s perpetuated by people who played the third Super Robot Wars Alpha game for PS2. So even though we totally put this to rest in 2007 when we reviewed it, let me repeat it here: IDEON DOES NOT FIRE ITS GUN RESULTING IN THE DESTRUCTION OF THE UNIVERSE. THE ENDING TO IDEON IS DELIBERATELY VAGUE AND WEIRD. Now then: that bit where the baby’s head gets blown off by a bazooka? That DOES happen. And it NEVER stops being funny!

Much lamentation is heard about how so much of today’s entertainment is focused on remakes of or sequels to past proven successes. But anime is no stranger to this practice, having gone through cycles of it in both the 80s and 90s alike. Indeed, many flagship black-and-white anime TV titles of the 1960s got full-color remakes in 1980. Anime’s original giant robot, Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s Tetsujin 28 aka Iron Man 28, whom we in America refer to as Gigantor to keep Marvel’s lawyers happy, was resurrected for another year’s worth of adventures. The New Adventures of Gigantor was eventually localized by Fred Ladd, the great anime pioneer who brought the original series out in America so many years prior…and he did it in very much the same way despite the passage of time! Same music as before, same silly character renamings, a few actors provide the voices of every single character in the show, you name it. It ran weekday mornings on the Sci-Fi Channel in 1993, at 8:00 AM right after Robotech…and as far as I know, it has never surfaced anywhere else since. That makes it one of, if not the only, Gigantor to have no [non-bootleg] Region 1 DVDs. For now, VHS recordings of quite a few episodes taped off TV are up on YouTube if you want to check it out.

Much like its heroes who found themselves suddenly revived into super-powered robotic beings, Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009, or as I like to describe them “the Japanese equivalent to the X-Men,” was itself resurrected the previous year in full-color thus paving the way for the 1980 theatrical film Cyborg 009: Legend of the Super Galaxy. Yes, I know that name doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it is the name written on the Best Film and Video release. Like every Best Film & Video release it was edited down for running time and content then re-released and re-titled under the Celebrity Just for Kids label. Running about 30-40 minutes shorter than the original movie—which isn’t exactly a cavalcade of nonstop robot battling excitement one might expect—Defenders of the Vortex substantially alters the ending of the movie so I recommend against watching it. In fact, don’t bother watching any dub of the movie because now that digital fansubs exist, you can track it down to see it subtitled. Just be advised that it’s still about 21 years before they start drawing 008 like what a normal black man might actually look like, but even with his primer-grey complexion it’s still a big improvement from what he used to be drawn like. Besides, at least he’s got it better than 006 over there:


But the best remake of all was 1980’s colorized remake of Astro Boy. Both Satoshi as well as Osamu Dezaki worked together on this one, and under the direction of the late Noboru Ishiguro the result is the most faithful animated adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s original manga stories possible. Many of the loftier SF ideas put forth in the manga that were toned down for the B&W series were restored for this version, and Tezuka himself somehow found time to be a member of the larger, more organized animation staff. The entire series is now legally streaming online courtesy of Viki, who have also made it available on YouTube via their dedicated TezukaAnime channel, which has LOTS of stuff.

Osamu Tezuka’s work output was simply inhuman, and it’s unfortunate that the pace he set became the standard for the anime industry to attempt to keep up with because not even Richard B. Riddick could keep pace with this guy. On top of the manga he was working, on top of whatever film essays and paintings and who knows what else he was doing, the same year as the Astro Boy remake he and other key members of the Astro Boy staff such as Noboru Ishiguro also put out the feature-length film Phoenix 2772: Cosmozone of Love, a futuristic sci-fi installment of his life’s work, the experimental, groundbreaking, and incredibly cathartic Phoenix manga.

Featuring an extended silent opening sequence that manages to succinctly encapsulate the appeal of what is now known as moé as well as guest appearances from Tezuka “stars” such as Rock, Shunsaku Ban, Saruta, and Black Jack himself—as the story goes, Tezuka would always insist on illustrating Black Jack personally—this film takes a lot of chances in its own regard, and they mostly pay off. Unlike the later Phoenix OAVs and TV series, the plot of the film was a brand-new original story not adapted from the comics, but don’t think it’s “filler.” Written over the course of decades, each installment of Phoenix is effectively standalone, as the existential tale of mortality spans from the dawn of Man to the end of time. So aside from the immortal Phoenix herself, don’t expect too many recurring characters. This too was clunkily dubbed by Best Film & Video, released relatively uncut, then cut to ribbons and re-released in the US under the name Space Firebird. There’s never been a commercial Region 1 DVD release, but it did come out in Australia. As with all things Tezuka, for the full story I recommend you check out the fan site Tezuka In English.

Do you REALLY think that a TV show, a movie, and character designs for another movie was ALL Osamu Tezuka would do in one year on top of writing some of his greatest manga ever? Fat chance: he also oversaw the production of Fumoon, a TV movie adaptation of one of his earlier manga titles that has been released in the US as Nextworld. Once upon a time I would’ve called this somewhat obscure. Not anymore! Like so much of Tezuka’s other stuff, a subtitled version is on Viki.

Are you noticing how most all of these sci-fi anime came out in the US in one form or another? That’s a big part of why we know more about them. Certainly, were it not for the fact that veteran anime vendor Right Stuf has made the 1980 theatrical film Toward the Terra available in the US over the years, it would’ve gone unnoticed despite the groundbreaking pedigree of its source material. As noted in my review from years ago, the original anime adaptation of shojo pioneer Keiko Takemiya’s shônen psychic space opera manga—all of which is available in English courtesy of Vertical—is noticeably compressed to fit into the 2-hour running time of the film, but it does the job. It would take decades before the quite excellent 24-episode semi-modernized remake was made, though alas neither the TV series nor the manga were all that successful in the US.

Still, as much as I dig that film, 1980 only has room for ONE blockbuster space opera, and that’s undeniably Be Forever Yamato. There have certainly been many installments of Yamato, but this one is often hailed as the, in-canon anyway! The third theatrical film of the series puts our heroes against a new threat, as the Dark Nebula Empire introduced in the preceding year’s (not very good) made-for-TV film have returned and…conquered planet Earth! Deploying a massive time bomb that will wipe out half the planet unless the Yamato—which at this point has wiped out TWO malevolent alien empires!—surrenders, the crew instead decides to go for the motherlovin’ HAT TRICK by using that time to head on over to the Dark Nebula’s homeworld, disable that bomb, and show these guys firsthand what happens when you put things in front of the Yamato’s giant eff-you cannon, the Wave Motion Gun. You think they care that their destination is in an entirely different galaxy with an intergalactic fleet between them?! I certainly do, because that’s Yoshinori Kanada animating those Cosmo Tiger space battles. Busy time for Kanada: he also worked on key sequences of Toward the Terra!

Much like the modern era’s “select scenes in IMAX”, the primary technical gimmick of the movie whereby the aspect ratio and audio mix formats change upon entering the galaxy of the Dark Nebula is less impressive in a home theater setting. Still, a lot can and does happen in those two and a half hours, so if you want a movie where the heroes REALLY DO fire their giant effin’ gun to blow up a freaking galaxy it’s THIS movie, not Ideon! Finally coming to Blu-Ray late this year…in Japan, without English subtitles.

The same year would mark a third TV season of Space Battleship Yamato, but it’s kind of weak compared to previous efforts and you can tell Leiji Matsumoto was ready to move on (though producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki had other plans…). Facing stiff competition from all the other stuff that was on in 1980, Yamato III: The Bolar Wars was reduced from 50 episodes to 25 due to low ratings. Still, it’s got Yutaka Izubuchi mecha designs, animation direction by Toyoo Ashida, and Yoshinori Kanada-animated space battles that he once described as “my best achievement.”

Matsumoto was working a Tezuka-caliber pace himself this year, for in addition to Blue Bird he also oversaw the production of the TV movie Legend of the Marine Snow, which was his take on a “war breaks out between the people living in undersea cities and those living on land” tale. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an English translated version of that, actually. That’s also true for the promotional Galaxy Express 999 works from 1980. As if the still-running TV series weren’t enough, to hype next year’s sequel movie a 999 theatrical short was made for the 1980 Toei Manga Matsuri (“Comics Festival”), Clare of Glass, which pretty much retreads the same ground as her portions in the first 999 film, which in turn was retelling the third episode of the 999 TV series. It certainly looks nice, but the story worked better the first (and second) time. I feel similarly for the OTHER 999 “film” of 1980, the TV special Galaxy Express 999: Can You Love Like a Mother, which despite its visual novel-caliber title is just a reconstructed version of the “Artemis of the Transparent Sea” two-parter from the series. That’s in episodes 51 and 52, should you want to see those for yourself courtesy of Hulu, Crunchyroll, FUNimation, etc.

By the way, I swiped the preceding promo image and the Animage covers used in this piece from Tim Eldred, whose definitive Yamato fan site is now located at rather than the now-gutted and useless Note that the articles I got these from aren’t online as of this writing, and the site format is still placeholder. But like the space battleship itself, it’s all being rebuilt, better than ever, for an upcoming resurrection. Update your bookmarks, guys!

I’ll end with the goofiest damn thing from 1980. No, not the the film adaptation of the Shônen Sunday gag manga Makoto-chan from Kazuo Umezu (yes, as in the horror manga artist) with the Koji Morimoto animation and “Beat” Takeshi Kitano voicework. No, not the Don Hertzfeldt-esque short film Man and a High Speed Society. I’m talking about Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned, the anime adaptation of the Marvel Comics series Tomb of Dracula by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, forever remembered due to anime con miscreants playing that scene where Dracula eats a burger. As I wrote a few years ago in my Otaku USA article, it’s MORE than just that...but the picture’s too good to not repost:

So that’s more or less my overview of anime in 1980: a year that few would really consider revolutionary or special in comparison to its preceding or subsequent years. And yet, look at all that I found to say about it! But remember: there’s no magic trick here. The lifetime of whatever expertise I acquired didn’t help me write about any of these things, because everything’s one search engine results page away now. You, yes YOU, have the power to acquire all of this knowledge yourself RIGHT NOW. What’s more, you can actually go WATCH this stuff with equivalently minimal effort. Once upon a time, doing each of those would’ve taken YEARS. Now, all you have to do is care enough to do those searches. If there’s one big difference between “the golden age” and now, it’s that most of us don’t have the time or inclination to do even that. So if you need me, you know where to find me.

(Next time: 1981! Presented by Daryl Surat another prestigious blogger!)

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