Monday, August 31, 2020

1987 catalog of dreams and VHS tapes

When we talk about 1980s North American anime fandom we tend to emphasize the fan art, newsletters, costumes, tape trading, and other home-grown elements of the fandom. And sure, that's because the DIY stuff is interesting and clumsy and charming. Just as interesting might be the contemporaneous Japanese anime merchandise that American fans were, even then, shelling out their hard earned cash for. How buried in anime merchandise could an 80s anime fan get without having to fly to Japan and fill up some suitcases? Surprisingly buried, actually! 

Before specialized websites and email, we relied on business cards, xeroxed catalogs, and addresses we’d find in classified ads and on convention flyer tables. Nascent "otaku" and the Japanese-American community would shop together at Mitsuwa Plazas from New Jersey to Texas to Chicago. We’d haunt Japanese groceries, comic shops, and toy & hobby retailers, and if we had a stamp to gamble we might shop via mail order with companies like Books Nippan, Nikaku Animart, Kimono My House, and something called Wyvern Web Graphics. 

The mid 80s creation of three Florida anime fans, Wyvern Web Graphics (a wyvern is a legendary bipedal winged dragon) combined anime knowledge, language skills and relationships in Japan to start an anime-merchandise import company at a time when options were few for desperate American anime nerds with a few bucks burning holes in their pockets. Wyvern Web would sell via mail order and would table at a small circuit of SF and comic conventions in the Southeast for a few years.

So what were those 1987 American anime nerds able to purchase? An embarrassing amount of stuff, to be honest. Posters, movie booklets, Roman Albums, postcards, buttons, binders, pencil boxes, stickers, sweatshirts, scores of anime soundtracks on LP and CD, and literally hundreds of official release laser discs and tapes of both VHS and Beta variety. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at the April 1987 Wyvern Web catalog. 

Posters were a big item, reasonably priced from $4.50-$6.50. I can recall paying $8 for the full size Harlock and Galaxy Express 999 posters at Atlanta Fantasy Fairs. Of course $6.50 in 1987 dollars would be $26 today. 

I bought the Locke The Superman and the 3-foot Lum posters from Wyvern. That Lum hung in my room for years, garnering sarcastic comments from every female visitor (don’t mind them, Lum, they’re just jealous). 

I'm fairly certain I purchased this Lum wallet from WWG but I'm pretty sure I didn't spend $16 on it. It's more of a coin purse than anything else. It's not listed in their catalog but I bought this Urusei Yatsura pencil case from them; it's one of my favorite pieces of UY merch, demonstrating exactly how well the series fit into the colorful, New Wave design aesthetic of the late 1980s. 

It's honestly kind of humbling when you see exactly what the anime home video market looked like in the 1980s - I recall actual anime on video being hard to come by, but here we see a comprehensive selection of the Japanese anime field. Of course, we have to remember that these hundreds of titles were all in Japanese with none of English subtitles or dubs we take for granted today.

Let's also take a look at these prices and remember it's 1987, the minimum wage is $3.35 an hour, and a Beta copy of the Daicon openings is going to cost you a cool hundred dollars ($236 today). Captain Harlock Arcadia Of My Youth was $146 on VHS – today you could purchase five Blu-Rays of the film for that much money. Bubblegum Crisis part 1 was only $80 ($190 today) and the Fandora OVA was only $64 for the tape, $57 for the laserdisc. Or you could wait a couple of decades and pick up an ex-rental Fandora VHS for 100 yen. 

I’ve never played Persona, but I’ve seen the Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei OVA on sale here from WWG on VHS for a mere $78. Is it essential? Jury’s still out! 

The selection of anime really is impressive, including Harmagedon. Giant Gorg, God Mazinger, three volumes of Galient, and all three Gundam movies. You could drop $120 on Lensman, or $80 on Karuizawa Syndrome - you know, the OVA by Yoshihisa Tagami about the romantic adventures of a freelance cameraman. You could make it a Tagami double feature with his Digital Target Grey for only $113. Or you could take the safe route and buy the crowd-pleasing Macross movie on laser disc for only $64. 

There isn't a price for this Queen Emeraldas Galaxy Express 999 TV special, but I believe I paid $70 for it. At the time I was making minimum wage at the local K-Mart, which meant I worked twenty hours for 45 minutes of video. I think it's worth it - the thing still hasn't received an official English release. Ditto for the other Leiji Matsumoto Queen here, Queen Millennia, a film that really deserves to be seen in the West. Why no Millennia, people? Get with it, and while you’re at it, sell it for less than $150! 

I did not buy this Urusei Yatsura laser disc from WWG - it's a loaner, and has laser rot to boot. But in 1987 it would set you back $64 ($150 today), and I sure hope you copied it to VHS before the laser rot set in. Price-wise, the most expensive item in the catalog is the extended version of the Final Yamato film, which will run you a cool $160 in 1987 dollars, or three hundred sixty four dollars and ninety-three cents here in 2020. That’s more than two dollars a minute to watch the Earth get drowned and Kodai and Yuki finally get it on. 

Music is a big part of anime, and anime music on LP and CD was a big part of things. The CD was still a relatively new format in ‘87 but a surprising amount of titles were available. I didn't pick up this Captain Harlock Symphonic Suite LP until years later. The Macross Song Collection album was a staple in anime fan record collections for years. 

If you bought this Prefectural Earth Defense Force CD back in 1987 it would set you back sixty dollars in today's money, and I think it's worth it just for the title track alone (I didn't get this from WWG, it was a gift). Similarly priced is the Urusei Yatsura Juke Box 2 CD, not to be confused with Urusei Yasura Music File or Urusei Yatsura Music Capsule or Urusei Yatsura Jam Trip. You'll go broke trying to keep up with Urusei Yatsura album releases. 

Rounding out our music selection is one of the most striking anime covers ever, the Zeta Gundam Symphonic Suite with the amazing Masao Yamazaki artwork that takes the anime right out of those anime characters. A bargain at twice the price! 

Wyvern Web’s operation lasted only a few years. Getting this treasure trove of anime merchandise in front of interested and educated buyers ready to shell out seventy or eighty or ninety dollars for VHS tapes in foreign languages was itself a tremendous challenge. The principal business owners relocated to Japan and the stateside end of the Wyvern Web business collapsed fairly quickly, leaving our part of America sadly bereft of high-quality anime merchandise; for a little while, anyway. But their catalog remains, a testament to the wide gulf between the strong desire of anime fans and the not-so-strong purchasing power of anime fan bank accounts. I guess some things never change.

All merchandise from the personal collection of D. Merrill

Monday, July 20, 2020

Scoopers Redux

One of the great things about anime blogging is that I can take a column I wrote way back at the start of Let's Anime and basically rebuild it from scratch. That's what I'm doing here, dusting off an old column that had broken links, sentence fragments and dead image files and giving it new life for a new era of talking about old cartoons. Enjoy! 

Can intrepid journalists outwit gangsters, corrupt politicos, android monsters, and an evil genius with a destructive master plan? That's the story of Scoopers, an original Japanese anime video released in December 1987 on both the VHS and VHD formats. Best known for boasting an original story and character designs by Monkey "Lupin III" Punch, our titular Scoopers are Yoko, a 22nd century reporter for Shambala City's Private Eyes Magazine - yes, they still have magazines, newspapers, and corded telephones in the 22nd century - and her cameraman partner Beat who is, by the way, an android. Sometimes Beat is a typical sassy, leering, gropey Monkey Punch character, and sometimes Yoko takes out her remote control and Beat is no longer in charge of Beat, which puts their relationship in a weirdly nonconsensual light. Anyway, the mysterious Mister X has been blowing up space shuttles and murdering anyone who dares to reveal his secrets and Yoko and Beat are on the beat tracking him down. Before he's murdered by goons in powered exo-suits, their informant clues the Scoopers into investigating Technoland, a futuristic amusement park Mister X runs as a sideline when he's not trying to take over the world. So basically what we're dealing with here is Westworld crossed with The Terminator and a little bit of Tron thrown in, as executed by Generic Japanese Animation Studio Of The 1980s, namely ACC, who's worked on everything from Hellsing to One Piece

Scoopers creator Kazuhiko Katō, aka Monkey Punch, passed away in 2019 (and doesn't that seem like a million years ago?) and is famed for creating Lupin III, which is understandable considering the, let's see, five decades of anime and manga success the character has enjoyed around the world. 

Monkey Punch's Ginza Whirlwind & Time Agent
But Katō, a protean creator, never rested on his laurels, letting his Mort Drucker-inspired style lend itself to works as varied as Gun Hustler, Playboy School, The Ginza Whirlwind Child, Mysterious Jaguarman, Time Agent, Transparent Gentleman, the personality-switching future detective comedy Cinderella Boy, the almost-anime Space Adventure Team Mechadventure, and TMS's early 90s international rescue team Saver Kids. Like Saver Kids, Scoopers was written for animation without a preliminary manga stage, therefore becoming peak bubble-era anime; bright colors, 80s fashions, big office buildings, and clunky robot-suited henchmen adventure for the rental markets of Tsutaya Video.

let's go on a space mechadventure
A scoop of extra 80s Scoopers cheese is provided by a completely inept sequence involving "cyberspace" as our heroes go "inside the computer" which where everything is rendered as "wireframes" and animated by "cheap video effects". Think of the kind of instantly dated, late night informercial kitsch Video Toaster effects as seen on MTV videos and "Captain Power", that's what we're talking about here. Admittedly, the spectacle of the floating, rotating, sometimes snowflake-embedded head of Mister X is admittedly entertaining, in a Zardoz kind of way.

quote cyberspace unquote
Mister X is the kind of evil genius who wears a giant puffy half-face mask that reveals his giant mustache. He sports an enormous overcoat with a collar the size of a manhole cover. This ensemble is accentuated with gigantic medals and epaulets. Since all his henchmen are robots, one wonders why he bothers to wear anything more than a T-shirt, but who cares? It's the 80s! Anyway, it's not as if Mister X's true identity is of any importance - Scoopers never gives us a big unmasking scene. Mister X isn't really Old Man Johnson in disguise, there's no reason for him to even wear a mask. 

please scream inside your hearts
A forgettable Casio keyboard soundtrack and off-the-shelf character designs featuring a remarkable array of balding middle-aged men make Scoopers a perfect example of what Japanese cartoons looked like in the late 1980s - all shiny cities, high-tech robot weapons, aviator shades, and phone booths. Nothing dates a SF cartoon like phone booths. There are a few bloody killings and some bare-breasted killer android monster Valkyries to remind viewers that this isn't some kiddy cartoon, this is serious entertainment for mature adults who want to sit down and relax with this mature adult tale of android cameramen battling android beast women on super rollercoasters of the future. I do kind of like the cleaned up character design of Beat and Yoko - they look recognizably like Monkey Punch characters while at the same time avoiding any resemblance to Lupin or Fujiko, and that's a tough needle to thread right there. 

Scoopers was pitched to the export market via the infamous "GAGA Communications" pilot reel - you know, the one that retitled Project A-Ko as "Super Nova" and Bubblegum Crisis as "Futurescape." A-Ko and BGC eventually found their way to America, but nobody bit on Scoopers, which is not surprising. If you owned JVC's VHD player and their Scoopers VHD release, you could enjoy Yoko and Beat's adventures in 3D courtesy the VHD's LCS glasses. Does this experience improve what's basically a forgettable, less than essential 1980s anime OVA? We may never know.

-Dave Merrill

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Anime North Online

Well, right now we're past the hundred day mark of COVID-19 and its assault upon the health, sanity, pocketbook, and general good order of Planet Earth. If you're an anime fan- and if you aren't then why are you reading this? - you've watched anime convention after anime convention fall by the wayside, felled by the force of force majeure and the good sense of organizers and attendees unwilling to cram themselves into densely packed groups with poor social skills and sketchy hygiene. 

Right around March they started to fall: Kigacon, Naka-Con, Fubukicon, Keikencon, Animatic Con, Colorado Anime Fest, Triad Anime Con, Zenkaikon, Toracon, Anime Japan 2020, Tekko, Anime Detour, Anime Boston, MTAC, Sakuracon, Anime St. Louis, Castle Point Anime Convention, Anime Frontier, Anime Central, Kawaii Kon, A-Kon, Animazement, Anime North, AniMinneapolis, Fanime, Mizucon, Anime NEXT, Anime Festival Orlando, Animaritime, Anime Festival Wichita, JAFAX, Anime Expo, Anime Midwest, Anime Matsuri, something called Animanga in Pomona CA, Anime-zing!, Anime Iowa, Otakon, Animethon, Otakuthon, Animefest, the Crunchyroll Expo and San Japan are just SOME of the anime conventions in North America that have postponed or cancelled. One thing is clear. There were a LOT of anime conventions happening this year. There are still a lot on the schedule, but let's face facts. More cancellations are coming. 

In the meantime, conventions are working to keep themselves busy and keep their fans entertained by moving into the online space and hosting "virtual conventions" on streaming platforms like Twitch. One of the first of these, Anime Lockdown, attracted hundreds to its streaming panels and was generally viewed as a success, and others have invariably followed, like this weekend's Kurocon

Right now I'm spending my COVID lockdown free time - which I really haven't had that much of since I've been working in an essential industry this whole time - I've been spending my time getting ready for Anime North's virtual convention, which is titled Momiji's Online Experience after Anime North's mascot Hoppouno Momiji. The MOE happens July 24-26 and features cosplay, a fashion show, game shows, tournaments, panels, appearances by special guests, and pretty much everything else that can survive the transmogrification from a live convention held in a convention event room to being captured on camera and streamed across the internets. I'm working on three events myself! 

ANIME NORTH: THE HISTORY OF A CONVENTION is a deep dive into the first two decades of Anime North, from its early years at the Michener Institute to hotels at varying locations and of varying degrees of sketchy, from a few hundred fans to the thirty thousand Anime North attendees that make it the convention it is today, or at least the convention it would have been had the world's infectious diseases not interrupted things.

ANIME 1980 turns the clock back forty years for a look at what Japanese anime was up to - and what it was up to was anime, and lots of it. Cyborgs, wandering children, interstellar ESPers, Space Firebirds, fly fishermen, and Warp Dimensions were the order of the day as the anime medium rode the SF boom out of the 1970s and into the 80s. 

ANIME HELL'S HALF HOUR is a very special thirty minute version of Anime Hell designed to deliver the maximum impact in the shortest possible time. Don't blink or you'll miss exciting short features, confusing advertisements, helpful public education films, amateur movies, and edited highlights of some of Japanese animation's weirdest and wildest. 

It's all happening July 24-26 at a computer near you, so plan your weekend around a good wi-fi signal and get ready for what will either be a vague approximation of an anime convention - or perhaps the start of an entirely new breed of event! 

And as always, I hope everybody is washing their hands! Wearing a mask outside! Staying six feet away from other people! Avoiding unnecessary travel! This thing isn't done with us yet. Let's stay safe and get through this. 

-Dave M

Friday, May 29, 2020

Ask The Con Nazi

There aren't any anime cons happening this summer, so anime fans across America are forced to reminisce about all the great times had at anime cons of the past. Others reminisce about how one fan's "great time" is another fan's "annoying nonsense", and still others think back to when every attempt to rein in jerky behavior was met with defiance and disbelief, when anyone who supported the kind of guidelines necessary to keep ten or twenty or fifty thousand people all moving around safely was slandered as a "Con Nazi." That's why we wrote the following Anime Jump column back in the first boom time of anime conventions, the middle 2000s, when legions of overgrown children decided Japanese animation gatherings were their place to engage in binge drinking, shoplifting, stalking, and vandalism -and that was just the staffers! The attendees? Don't even ask! So, keep all this in mind as you enjoy this completely fictional column that is intended for entertainment purposes only and does not involve any ACTUAL fascists. 

Want to know why anime cons do the things they do? Does con security piss you off? Do they not understand that this is your happening and it freaks you out? Our expert RUDOLF P. SCHWEINHUND left a remarkable career in Europe to act as an advisor to many American anime conventions and has provided assistance to some of our largest and most well-regimented organizations. He's received many questions over the years from various fandom groups and war crimes tribunals, and here he's happy to share these queries and his thoughts with anime fandom at large.

Dear Con Nazi,
Why was I thrown out of (NAME OF CON DELETED)? All I did was follow (NAME OF GUEST DELETED) around all weekend long. And I camped outside her hotel room door. And I took 150 pictures of her for use on my web shrine. And I bought three giant stuffed animals for her, and one time she looked thirsty so I brought her bottled water, and some other people wanted to talk to her but I made sure they were really true fans of (NAME OF GUEST DELETED) and not just trying to be cool. And (NAME OF GUEST DELETED) seemed kind of disturbed and freaked out, and I didn't know why, but I told her that I'd do anything to make her feel better! Except leave her alone! And then Con Security asked me to leave her alone, and I said that it was a free country and I could stalk anybody I wanted to! And then they threw me out! Why are people so cruel? Especially police?

People are cruel because of the thin veneer of humanity separating man from beast. Forget your celebrity obsessions and concentrate on the dark depths of your own soul. Also learn some boundaries, stupid.

actual anime fans circa 1997

Dear Con Nazi,
I'm a dealer, and I have a lot of merchandise that some people, like the FBI, would characterize as "bootleg", because they're just big meanies. I was at (NAME OF CON DELETED) and I was selling my stuff as usual, and the con staff asked me to quit selling "bootlegs", because when I paid for the table I apparently had signed a contract saying I wouldn't sell "bootlegs". So I took my "bootlegs" off the table, and then ten minutes I put them back on the table, and the con staff nailed me again, and I took them off the table for ten minutes, and then put them back on the table, and then do you know what this con did? They made me take EVERYTHING off my table and go home! My question is not whether or not they can legally do this, since they obviously can. My question is... well, I really don't have a question. I just wanted to make sure people knew that I can read and sign contracts, and yet I still think I don't have to follow them.

Yes, the rules are for suckers. I bet smart guys like you really get a kick out of seeing your non-refundable tables stand empty for two days because you couldn't read or wouldn't follow a contract. You're too important to follow those rules! Or run a successful business!

Dear Con Nazi,
I was at (NAME OF CON DELETED) and I saw an artists alley table that was empty late at night. So me and my pals sat down there, and took the artists' name card and wrote on it, and I was doing some REALLY AWESOME sketches of Goku and stuff, and then the actual artist showed up, and when she told me to leave I was all like, "what are you gonna do, call teh cops?" and then she ACTUALLY WENT AND GOT THE COPS! So when I saw the cops I ran, and when they caught me I told them I didn't speak English. Which is more or less true. What I want to know is, what kind of world is it where COOL, AWESOME GUYS LIKE ME can't just steal things and get away with it?

What kind of world is it? Planet Earth, that's what kind of world it is.

actual anime fans circa 2006

Dear Con Nazi,
I went to a con, and I really liked it, and yet me and my friends felt that we should show that con how knowledgeable we are about the con business. Because we've actually staffed conventions ourselves! So we wrote a three-page email detailing everything that went wrong with that convention, and we didn't sign our names, and we sent it to the convention, and THEY DIDN'T TAKE ANY OF OUR SUGGESTIONS SERIOUSLY! Why weren't our recommendations given the respect they deserved?

Oh, but they WERE.

Dear Con Nazi,
There's a rule at some conventions that REALLY PISSES ME OFF. I don't want to say what the rule is, but it involves me writing really stupid things on pieces of cardboard and then wearing the cardboard on my shirt like a sign. Sometimes I'll write pathetic pleas for attention, and other times I'll write pathetic pleas for cash. Either way it's sure to get lots of people to look at me and it's a lot easier than actually meeting people by introducing myself and speaking to them. It's also easier than actually working for my own money. So anyway, SOME CONVENTIONS THAT I WILL NOT NAME have made up these terrible Nazi rules that are totally infringing on our freedom of speech and not allowing us to be free to express ourselves! As good Americans what should we do to combat this assault upon our God-given freedoms?

You are fully guaranteed the free exercise of all of the Constitutional freedoms that you have as American citizens, and you're free to exercise these freedoms on your God-given American sidewalks, outside of the convention center in the God-given American sunshine and the God-given American fresh air. Inside the convention, however, you have to obey the convention rules, so, as we say in Germany, tough titty.

actual anime fans circa 2000

Dear Con Nazi,
I was at a convention, and the con staff was really on a power trip. I don't want to say how exactly, but it was if they were trying to control a crowd of a few thousand people! I mean, as if! Oh, it burned me up. So I got onto the convention message board after the convention, and I spent two solid weeks complaining, and how this completely ruined the entire weekend for me, and how the convention staff was all (EXPLETIVE DELETED) morons who obviously are (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and couldn't run a successful convention ever! So they banned me from the message board! This of course proves I'm right and they're wrong. Right?


Yes, you are "right." "Right" in the sense of "complete asshat."

Dear Con Nazi,
Me and my friends really like a certain Japanese cultural phenomenon. Even though this phenomenon doesn't have a lot to do with Japanese animation, the only place we can get together and enjoy this certain phenomenon with fellow fans is at Japanese animation conventions. My question is, is it wrong to whine and complain and endlessly bitch and moan until every Japanese animation convention has devoted itself entirely to pleasing our small minority of obsessed fans?


actual anime fans circa 1997

Dear Con Nazi,
I was working staff at an anime con, and one time I showed up to work and I started messing around with the cash box that had a few thousand dollars in it, and the staff director told me to knock it off, and I told him he couldn't tell me what to do, and he told me that yeah, as long as I was on staff, he certainly COULD tell me what to do, and then I said that I was gonna kick his ass, and he said oh really, and before I knew it I was thrown off staff!


The CON NAZI's column appears every week in 87 newspapers worldwide. He is eager to resist the onslaught of any and all questions sent his way. If you have questions or commentary, feel free to contact him at: Con Nazi, Der Adlerhorst, Neu Berchtesgaden, Argentina.