Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Anime North in Toronto, Anime Next in Atlantic City

It's that time again, Anime North returns to the Delta International Hotel and the Toronto Congress Center out by Pearson Airport in lovely Toronto Ontario Canada this weekend - May 25-27 2018! It's a weekend full of anime guests, videos, cosplayers, panels, dances, vendors, and hopefully the weather gods will smile upon us and waft some gentle spring breezes our way. What am I up to this year? 

Well, in defiance of good sense and common decency Anime Hell is back Friday night at 10 for all your short-form amusing Japanese video needs. Often imitated, never equaled, it's Anime Hell. This year Hell is back in the North Ballroom of the TCC, so look for the water tower and head to that end of the parking lot. 

Saturday morning Shaindle Minuk and myself will be screening a choice selection of the kinds of cartoons we as 60s and 70s kids would fill our Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons with - theatrical shorts from the 30s and 40s and 50s, giving us a background in the history of animation that today's kids sadly may be lacking. 

At 4pm I'll be wandering through the 1970-1990 works of manga master Go Nagai as they translate to film and television. Demons, robots, puppets, android girls, weird failures, secret successes, they're all there in this man's Protean output. 

Sunday at noon myself, Ashley Hakker, and Nicholas Terwood will be exploring what anime fandom looked like in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s, and we've only got an hour so we're gonna talk fast! 

And on Sunday afternoon Neil Nadelman and myself will be taking you through the craziest anime not yet licensed for official viewing here in North America.  What weird gems will we uncover? Will the forces that decide such things take pity upon our alchemy and see fit to release some of these titles over here? Let's find out!

And let's not forget Dubs Time Forgot, Space Battleship Yamato, South Korean Bootleg Anime, and Totally Lame Anime, panels brought to you by Mike Toole, Neil Nadelman, and Tim Eldred that I may or may not be sitting in on.  It's all happening at Anime North this year, for more information consult the schedule available online or investigate your program book when you arrive! 

If that wasn't enough convention goodness, a few weeks later Shaindle Minuk and myself will be at Anime Next in Atlantic City, NJ, bringing more panels and events to the excited New Jerseyians and fans from around the tri-state area! We'll be doing Anime Hell, Mister Kitty's Stupid Comics, the anime fandom history event Class of '85, investigating anime based on Western sources in Under The Western Influence, and repeating The Devilman Made Me Do It for an American audience! Anime Next happens June 8-10 - see you on the boardwalk! 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

(Oh My) God Mazinger

God Mazinger (Aira Mu no Densetsu) vol. 4 was the first un-translated, un-adapted, non-footnoted Japanese-language manga I ever held in my non-Japanese-reading hands and tried like hell to figure out. Okay, so this is a Japanese comic. It's larger than a paperback, but smaller than a trade. There's a color dust jacket – a dust jacket on a paperback? - with two bug-eyed anime people and a giant airbrushed explosion and I guess that's God Mazinger up there growling. Otherwise it's in black and white and hey, that woman on page 1 isn't wearing any clothes. Best keep this away from the folks.

well, apart from that, how was your day?

It's what, late 1984, early 1985. I'm 15, I've read Schodt’s "Manga Manga" and wasted countless hours watching Japanese cartoons on TV, I have a fair idea of who Mazinger Z is; this thing here pretty obviously has something to do with Mazinger, right? But it's some kind of sword and sorcery story involving armies on horseback fighting legions of dinosaur robots. Bikini-clad snake-cult women are cut in half, giant robots crush and flame-broil and impale legions of horsemen, there are spaceships and cosmic ultra-dimensions and what appears to be time travel mixing up modern Japan and the Time Of Legends.

In short, this didn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense to my teenage self. God Mazinger vol. 4 wound up in my confused hands courtesy some friends of my parents, who were involved in some sort of cultural exchange program and who visited Japan regularly and who likely paused at the bookstore at Narita and grabbed a stack of comics for their friends’ Japan-obsessed kids. This God Mazinger tankubon was one of those comics (another was the Murano Lensman manga).

you think YOUR boss is a monster? 

God Mazinger went way beyond the comics I was into at the time, which included a smattering of Marvel superhero titles and a heaping helping of what was then called 'groundlevel' or 'alternative' stuff like Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot, Ms. Tree, Cerebus The Aardvark, Scott McCloud's Zot, and Wendy Pini's Elfquest. Both Zot and Elfquest made no secret of their Japanese animation influence; anime and manga were seeping in through the cracks, Voltron and Robotech were on TV every day and nerds like me wanted more. A slew of licensed anime-property comics would be followed by actual translated manga, which would get its foot in America's mid 80s door and never take it out.

(heavy metal guitar wailing intensifies)

Speaking of comics, in Japan the God Mazinger manga would run in Shogakkukan's Shonen Sunday from May until December 1984, incongruously appearing alongside the less apocalyptic Urusei Yatsura, super chicken Gu Gu Ganmo, and Mitsuru Adachi's baseball romance Touch. To complete the media trifecta, God Mazinger was also a Kadokawa Bunko novel series written in part by Go Nagai’s brother that made its way into print prior to both its manga and TV cartoon iterations.

So what’s happening in this Mazinger Of The Gods? Yamato Hino, a young modern clean-living rugby-playing Japanese lad, finds himself blasted back 20,000 years through the portal of time at the request of Princess Aira of the Mu Empire – not the Mu Empire seen attempting world conquest in Atragon nor the Mu Empire attempting world conquest in Brave Raideen, but a completely different, more benevolent Mu, now under assault from the Dragonia Empire. The Dragonians and their dinosaur attack brigade have driven the Mu Empire back to one solitary redoubt, where their god, the giant stone statue Mazinger, waits for the prophecy to bring him to life.
Daiei's Daimajin

If Mazinger Z ever reminded you of those Daimajin movies that Daiei made in the 60s, you know, the movies about the giant stone-god statue that comes to life to punish evil, well, God Mazinger cuts out the middleman and gives us a Mazinger that is, for all intents and purposes, a Giant Majin. When Yamato shows up in 20,000 BC he finds literally every atom of his being mashed together with the supernatural force of God Mazinger, and the composite Yamato/God Mazinger, no longer stone but some kind of ultra-technological cyber-golem, is now able to wreak terrible vengeance on King Dorado, his Dragonians and their resurrected-dinosaur cavalry.

If you'll bear with 15 year old me, I'm still trying to dope out this God Mazinger manga. I understand Yamato merges with God Mazinger and uncorks a giant prehistoric urn's worth of prehistoric whup-ass on an army of sinister robot monsters. Heck, I even get that his name is Yamato, because when you grew up watching Star Blazers, Yamato is gonna be the first katakana you learn. The manga shows the awesome power of God Mazinger roaring out of his God Mazinger mouth, destroying robots and floating star destroyers and vaporizing the entire Lost Continent of Mu in a super-atomic explosion that causes earthquakes as far away as Japan 1984 AD, wiping out good guys, bad guys, everybody. And then Yamato vanishes into a sparkly Steve Ditko dimension where he hollers at God, or God Mazinger, for a while, and then Princess Aira shows up in her birthday suit and then, while the world is gettin’ destroyed, they start gettin' it on. Because, after all, this is a Go Nagai manga. And yes, it is all blowing my 15 year old mind. Years later I’d find out about the God Mazinger anime series, which would only raise more questions.

skyrockets in flight, apocalypse delight
aaa, aaa, aaaa-pocalypse delight

Bearing little resemblance to the 70s Toei-branded super robot parade or Go Nagai's 80s works involving psychic teens, space puppets, and Violence Jacks, the Tokyo Movie Shinsha God Mazinger anime aired April to September 1984 on Nippon Television. Sure, it kept the bones of Go Nagai's manga – Yamato goes forward into the past, fades into God Mazinger, and so on and so forth. But the TMS show sands down the rough edges of Nagai's manga, dials back the mayhem, takes some of the oomph out of Princess Aira's figure, and ditches the universe-destroying climax entirely in favor of a vastly less cataclysmic finale in which Yamato and God Mazinger re-enact the end of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie and stop the evil-yet-handsome Prince Eldon from marrying Princess Aira.

Manga Princess Aira vs Anime Princess Aira

As the TV show ends, we see Yamato and Aira surrounded by their friends in a non-destroyed Mu and freeze-framing with- I'm not making this up – actual cartoon hearts floating in the air. A less Go Nagai ending is hard to contemplate. Heck, Yamato’s little sister even makes a time travel trip just to make everything a little more kid-friendly. Hey Mu, if you’re so threatened, why not bring some JSDF forces through that time portal and get GATE started a few decades early?

Audiences demanded more subtlety in their anime entertainments and TMS Entertainment, what with their Lupins, their Cobras and their Cat’s Eyes, was the go-to outfit for the go-go 80s. TMS took a cautious approach to the scary Go Nagai world, beginning with an opening credit sequence definitely not the wailing blood & thunder we might associate with giant stone vengeance gods versus screaming barbarian dinosaur armies. God Mazinger’s serene, lyrical Shouko Suda-sung OP may have confused millions of Japanese kids, who might have been tantalized by the prospect of experiencing their own Mazinger anime, but instead got two toga teens and a digital clock with nary a Rocket Punch or a Thunder Break in sight.

God (anime) Mazinger’s style lacks the broad strokes and in-your-face heavy metal attitude of the manga. The colors are quieter, the Satoshi "Glass Mask" Hirayama character designs are softer, the soundtrack isn't all blasting brass and belted-out lyrics. Is this a good thing? I dunno. There's definitely a place for classy updates of Go Nagai properties – we only had to wait a few years for Devilman: Evil New Birth for proof – but when splitting the difference between the sacred and the profane, God Mazinger may have landed in the uncanny valley rather than the sweet spot.

Yamato, hasshin!

That’s not to say the show’s not without its charms; the clean, colorful animation style TMS used to good effect in God Mars and Tetsujin-28 is in full effect. Yamato is understandably not at all interested in fusing with a god-warrior at first and the show gives us a chance to see him mature and rise to meet challenges. The knights sworn to protect Aira aren’t sold on Yamato at first, either. And if you enjoy the kind of swordfighting TMS brought us in Rose Of Versailles, well, God Mazinger's fantasy setting gives us plenty of that.

Today the Western anime intelligentsia is/are finally waking up to the psychic world of Go Nagai, what with your Cutey Honey Universes and your Devilman Crybabies (there's a trivia team name for you). The old schoolers salute Mazinger Z and Getter Robo, the exponents of hyper-masculine blood frenzy tout Violence Jack, and everybody else side-eyes Kekko Kamen. But whenever Go Nagaiheads gather to talk Dynamic (get it?) anime, God Mazinger is left out of the picture. Why is that?

Well, first off, barely anybody saw the thing. The show only lasted 23 episodes. One episode was ditched entirely in favor of the 1984 Summer Olympics TV broadcast. The episodes of God Mazinger that did air were ignored by viewers in favor of Fist Of The North Star. 1984 simply had better things to watch. Perhaps some toys would have helped to attract viewers, but God Mazinger was barely merchandised; only a few toys by bargain-bin toymaker Mark, some LP records, and a few storybooks were licensed.

also starring the Next-To-Last Unicorn

TMS has a great track record with international sales of its anime series... if you don’t count God Mazinger. 23 episodes weren’t enough for American syndication, and any cartoon featuring women in tiny bikinis being knifed through the sternum was definitely too much for American syndication. Perhaps European or South American markets might have been a better bet, but evidence of this is nonexistent; maybe a show called “God Mazinger” was perhaps a little too close to impiety for the former domains of the Roman Catholic Church. TMS's localized English-language title, 'The Deity," isn't much better -are we supposed to watch this, or worship it?

kiss those American syndication dollars- and your sternum- goodbye

God Mazinger hasn’t been entirely forgotten. In Japan the show was released on VHS, LD and DVD twice, the manga’s been released in e-book format, and the old stone face even makes an appearance in the Super Robots Taisen video game, while Princess Aira pops up in the all-girl Mazinger Angels manga from 2004. As the subsequent iterations of Go Nagai’s Mazinger become more powerful, more earth-shaking, and more apocalyptic, the then-extreme destructive power of God Mazinger seems less and less impressive. Will the complex forces of science, the supernatural, intellectual property licenses, and time itself ever align to bring God Mazinger roaring back to life? Only Princess Aira knows!

-Dave Merrill

Saturday, March 24, 2018

I'm SuperS, Thanks For Asking

Yeah, I know the banner up top says "1960-1990." But the sad truth is that rules were made to be broken, that time marches on, and that 1995 and even 2005 are getting further away all the time. In that spirit I present my 2005 Anime Jump review of a DVD set of a 1995 television series starring five good-looking young people from all walks of life who team up, don primary-colored outfits, and battle evil with their super Sailor powers!

39 episodes
English / Japanese w English subtitles

Pity poor Sailor Moon. Too old to be watched like a regular show, too young to be remembered with nostalgia, not quite silly enough to be enjoyed as camp. It's sad, really. Sailor Moon once proudly bridged the gap between the cutey-pie magical girls shows watched by 10-year old girls and the five-color fighting team series enjoyed by their younger brothers, with enough style to attract the 12-and-overs and enough cheesecake to keep dads and lads riveted. As a Japanese comic and cartoon it was a bona fide phenomenon, and as an import it is THE series that broke the gender barrier and made it once again okay for girls to watch cartoons and read comic books. Especially comic books. The impact of manga on the American bookstore market is phenomenal, and it is driven by comics that are read by girls, and the one that started it all was Sailor Moon.

But enough philosophizin'. This is a review of Sailor Moon SuperS, not a freakin' thesis statement. And I'll be blunt. If you already know and like Naoko Takeuchi's Sailor Moon, you'll probably like Sailor Moon SuperS (or "Super S" as it's sometimes known as). All the ingredients you've come to expect are there: mysterious enemies from beyond the portal of time, sexually ambiguous characterizations, yet another fashion makeover for Sailor Moon, a few subplots involving dates and important life decisions for secondary characters, and at least one third of every episode occupied by your various transformations, magical weapon attacks, pleas for help from mysterious otherworldly beings, statements of intent on the part of the Sailor Scouts, and the et cetera.

If, on the other hand, you have never seen Sailor Moon, you will find yourself getting bogged down with such basic questions as Who Are These Girls and Why Do They Have These Powers, before moving on to more advanced questions like Why Do The Mysterious Extradimensional Invaders Always Pick Sailor Moon's Neighborhood To Spearhead Their Invasion, and How Old Is Chibi Moon Supposed To Be Anyway. This show's got no time for explanations.

Originally a TV Asahi broadcast from March 1995 until March of the next year, SuperS was the fourth Sailor Moon television series from Toei and the third to be directed by Maple Town veteran Kunihiko Ikuhara. America got the show in 2000 as part of Cartoon Network's Toonami, a DVD and VHS release from Pioneer/Geneon later in the decade, and more recently, Viz re-licensed the series for an updated release later this year (2018).

The gist of SuperS is that a mysterious circus-themed universe of evil is erupting forth into the pastel-colored Tokyo of Sailor Moon and her teenaged chums. Commanded by the Yoda-esque Zirconia, the fighters of Universe Ringling are methodically abducting people from all walks of life in order to steal their dreams! No, not take away their student loans or their publishing deal, but actually stealing the actual dreams themselves.

the circus is in town. Or on top of town, whichever

It's all because Queen Nehelenia, the leader of this acrobat-and-clown infested dimension, seeks a magical crystal that can restore her to her rightful place as the absolute ruler of all creation. This crystal is held for safe keeping by, naturally, a Pegasus, and this Pegasus is hiding out inside somebody's dreams. And THAT somebody with the flying horse dreams is Chibi-Moon, Sailor Moon's annoying daughter from the future who was sent to the past because childcare in the future is very expensive.

Finding out she's got a Pegasus living inside her dreams works out well for Chibi-Moon. She's got somebody to talk to when things get lonely, and what's more, when battles frequently erupt between Sailor Moon and the varied minions of Planet Big Top, the Pegasus clip-clops into our world and destroys the villian with one wave-motion blast from his magical unicorn horn. So that's convenient.

Sailor Moon is not a show that really responds well to critical examination, because that's not what it's about. Nobody cares whether or not any of this stuff makes sense; the important thing is that Sailor Moon and her friends and her friends' friends are friends for life and even though they feud with each other they're still friends, because friends should be friendly. Even the villains become friendly; they're monsters because they've been mistreated, because they've never known real friendship, and once they realize that these Earth creatures are willing to be their friends, they quit being villains, and the head villain has to destroy them, and that makes Sailor Moon mad, and several magical power weapon attacks later the Earth is saved so that everybody can be friends.

This is the kind of show that pre-teens watch once a week or once a day and think is terrific- even adults can watch the occasional episode and marvel at the spiffy animated sequences and the long, flashing, mini-skirted limbs of the heroines. But watch more than one episode in a row and you'll notice a third of every episode is taken up with the same transformation, magical beam, whatever sequences. In a 22 minute show that means that - do the math with me - 7 minutes and 20 seconds of a typical Sailor Moon SuperS episode is stuff you saw in the last episode, and in the episode before that, and the episode before that, etc.

big or small, they all fall when this girl hits them like a cannonball!
Now this is a kids show, and kids eat this stuff up. Part of the appeal is knowing that Sailor Moon has a ritual, and kids love seeing the cool transformation sequences in the same way they like always having the crusts cut off their sandwiches. Adults, on the other hand, find themselves going to the kitchen for another drink. Sure, there are several episodes that stand out. One episode, dealing with the candy monster that gives all the neighborhood kids tooth decay, is exceptionally funny and has a scary dentist, to boot.

As it happens Queen Nehelenia goes through about seven different henchvillians and even Zirconia his- (or her, depending on which language you view the show in)-self is betrayed. Pegasus turns out to be a cute boy with a little unicorn horn, and Sailors Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, and Moon use their magical force beams to blast Nehelenia back to where she came from, probably winter quarters in Sarasota.

these are the carny folk you don't want to end up like

Sailor Moon SuperS is the, let's see, fourth different Sailor Moon TV series, and the last to be translated in its entirety into English for the North American market. The Toronto-based dubbing is lackluster; stiff, unconvincing, and casual with the genders of some of the characters (though admittedly sometimes it's hard to tell with this show). Many times the dub will take a sharp left turn away from the original dialog, and usually this means annoying catch-phrases and "hip" slang that's already dated.

they're tired. Get it?

Geneon's set - labeled "The Complete Collection", and referred to as "The Pegasus Collection" on the DVD menus - is packaged smartly with the DVDs in slimline cases that fit neatly into a cute little box. Extras include... well, there aren't many extras. You get the original Japanese openings, and Karaoke versions of the original Japanese openings and endings, and that's about it.

If you're liking some Sailor Moon you'll enjoy SuperS, though I can't say how many episodes in a row you'll be able to watch before the endless stream of strangely worded magical attacks and transformation sequences become too much to bear. Out of 39 episodes there are maybe 8 that don't follow the "monster of the week" format, so the less dedicated Mooninites out there may want to skip to the good parts or simply enjoy the show in smaller quantities. But for those occasions that require a big chunk of Sailor Moon SuperS, the "Complete Collection" is a must-have. What exactly, if any, those occasions might be, is a question I leave to you.

-Dave Merrill

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Unsafe At Any Frame Rate

Speeding full throttle straight towards the bottom of the barrel, Gattiger was one of Japan's clunkier cartoons, yet achieved inexplicable European success and even burned rubber across a few American UHF stations, confusing viewers for years via the miracle of home video tape. Cho Supercar Gattiger - yes, that's "Super Supercar Gattiger," for that extra bit of super - is a firey car wreck of a show, part of a mid-1970s auto-racing anime fad that crashed and burned almost instantly, leaving shows like Super Grand Prix, Rugen Kaiser, and Tobidase! Machine Flying Dragon in the impound lot. 

Gattiger hits the sweet spot where low-rent robot faddism and combination super-car absurdity combine, leaving a primary colored junkpile of nonsense built of parts rejected from five or ten better shows and super-glued together seemingly at random. A barely watchable parade of sawblade-equipped bugmobiles and machine-gun firing crab-cars bumping around endless, shoddily painted backgrounds, we yawn as legions of stupidly costumed off-brand Galactor thugs man their dork-vettes to be destroyed in masse by our super super car hero Gattiger, which, when combined into its super super-car configuration, looks like that stupid neighbor kid took five of your Hot Wheels and stuck them together with globs of Play-Doh. Usually combination mecha tries for some sort of combination effect that results in something new and exciting, but Gattiger is satisfied to turn five cars into one heavier, slower, less efficient and more cumbersome car. 

A cooperative endeavour of the Eiwa and Nippon Keizai advertising agencies, Cho Supercar Gattiger aired on Tokyo 12 (now TV Tokyo) from October 1977 until March '78. Created by Hitoshi Chiaki, Gattiger's animation was produced by Wako Productions – not the Osaka based Wako that manages comedians and singers, but Wako Pro, founded in 1965 in Nerima, Tokyo. Wako did a little subcontracting out to Tatsunoko and Sunrise but also carved out its own niche, animating the odd cut-paper version of Kazuo Umezu's Cat Eyed Boy, the Euro-insect champ Maya The Bee, one of the many Moomin anime shows, the South American adventure series Pepero The Andes Boy, super-cheap super robot Mechander Robo, Moribi Murano's charming dog comedy Bark! Bun Bun, and Dutch-German-Japanese ducksploitation extravaganza Alfred J. Kwak. Wako Pro is now called "Teleimage" and their modern business is managing old properties, not creating new ones. 

Wako Pro galaxy of super stars

Gattiger's mechanical design was by Design Office Mechaman, who'd also work on masterpieces like Voltes V and turkeys like Ginguiser. The Gattiger manga, because of course there was a manga tie-in, was by Eiji Imamichi and appeared in Terebi-kun. Imamachi drew lots of licensed character comics including the 80s Tetsujin 28, Ultra Seven, Ironking, Transformers, the Red Hawk Yamato (no, not the space battleship, the OTHER space battleship) and the Tsubaraya CB-craze curiosity Emergency Directive 10-4 · 10-10. 

demon motors needs a bailout

Super Supercar Gattiger's plot is confused, gas-huffing nonsense about a Demon Car Company which is run by the slightly more deranged, insanely mustached Henry Ford type Black Demon. Not content with being a filthy-rich zillionaire, he leverages his auto-making expertise into, what else, a bid for world conquest. To do this he needs the top secret super powerful solar powered combo-super-car invented by top science man Dr. Tabuchi. Well, wouldn't you know it, Demon winds up killing Dr. Tabuchi, leading Tabuchi's son Joe to swear eternal vengeance by means of the selfsame solar powered super-combo-5-in-1 Gattiger. Helpfully titled "Center Machine", "Left Machine", "Right Machine", and so forth, this rolling Pick-A-Part lot is driven by the Tiger Team crew of Sachiyo (girl), Kotomi (girl's kid brother), Ken (the big guy), and Hayami (quiet guy), who subsequently pop their five individual clutches and tell the world to eat their five individual dusts. 

our super super car heroes

As the worldwide auto-race battle heats up we learn Black Demon's second in command, Queen Demon, is actually Joe Tabuchi's mother and that Black Demon Mustache himself is Queen Demon's father, which makes him Joe's grandfather, and which also means every once in awhile Queen Demon puts on a Racer X mask and races incognito to help Joe Tabuchi, because that's what mothers do. In a series of nonsensical auto races through rugged, desolate, easily drawn territory, the Gattiger team races and wins against the Black Demon Auto Racing Team, with the fate of the world, or at least several lucrative endorsement contracts, in the balance. 

And no, kids, let's not confuse Super Supercar Gattiger with the hero of Toei's 1975 short film Uchuu Enban Daisensou, or "Great Outer Space Flying Disc War", the proto-Grandizer film starring an outer space refugee who pilots a super robot known as Gattaiger. Because that would be silly. Sure, Uchuu Enban Daisensou is dopey robot nonsense, but at least it features a robot panther, a big-haired outer space Farrah Fawcett, and a mercifully short 20 minute run time. 

know your gattigers
Queen Demon and Eric share the same hairstylist

Our combo-super-car-super-Gattiger super story races to a furious climax as Black Demon general Eric murders his rival Queen Demon with radioactivity. Joe and the Tiger Team face off against Eric in a super car showdown that Eric loses, bringing justice to the galaxy of super-car auto racing. Stricken with the loss of both Eric and Queen Demon, Black Demon himself pilots the massive super attack... just kidding. Black Demon blows himself and his entire Demon Auto Company to smithereens. The end, drain the fluids, put the wheels up on blocks, throw a tarp over it, we're done. 

The show has a flat mid 70s look; you could easily be watching any number of boring Nippon Animation robot disasters (Blocker Gundan 4 Machine Blaster, Ginguiser) or clunky pre-Takahata Zuizo Eizo kidvid starring bears or woodchucks or raccoons or bluejays wearing hats and little ties. The animation is passable at best and that's a generous assessment. Lots of lugubrious male-vocalist songs exhort us to "hear our courage groan" and "get rid of the pain by stepping on the gas," while the audience looks at its watch and waits impatiently for another fuel shortage. 

So why are we even talking about this show? Sure,the show was a hit in Italy, a nation known for its enthusiastic disregard for auto safety, but why did San Francisco's Fuji-TV see fit to translate and subtitle Gattiger and broadcast it to an America that was clearly not ready? Why did the newly-minted Japanimation fans of that era roll tape on what must have, even back then, been seen as a fairly dopey show? How did it wind up tacked onto the end of a VHS of 1990's "Devilman : Evil Bird Sirene"? 

blatant false advertising for the Gattiger toy
To be perfectly frank, Gattiger exists in America for the same reason it existed in Japan – to sell toys. Takatoku produced a few versions of Gattiger rolling stock that must have seemed like a good bet for American retailers, as Fuji-TV's Gattiger broadcast includes a tremendously misleading ad for Gattiger toys and the address you can write down and hector your parents into driving you to. I found my Gattiger Center Machine at a comic shop in Massachusetts, which only goes to show you never know where these anime things are going to pop up next.  

still has that new super car smell

Sure, totally lame anime like Gattiger is always good for a chuckle, and the show is useful in keeping the anime conversation from getting too pretentious. Beyond that, in spite of its many design flaws, we can point to Super Super Car Gattiger as proof of the raw power of Japanese animation, that even the speed bumps and potholes of thin, derivative premises can't slow anime down.

-Dave Merrill

just one last look at that mustache

Sunday, January 28, 2018

looks like Lyrica

Sure, part of why my generation's nerds still obsess over classic Showa era (1926-1989) manga/anime is, of course, wanting to see the original versions of the shows we grew up watching, your Space Battleship Yamatos and your Gatchamans and your Macrosses. But what any reasonably diligent researcher discovers is that for every anime series exported to America, five or ten didn't make the trip. For every manga that we see in our local Barnes & Noble or Chapters, there are five hundred thousand million zillion that will never be localized. Because let's face it, there aren't enough trees in the world. 

Nostalgia notwithstanding, what keeps guys like me keeping on keeping on ranting about this stuff is that every time you turn around there's something new popping up to say "hey, look at me, you didn't even know I existed, here I am!" And that's what I'm ranting about today, Sanrio's Lyrica manga magazine. Yeah, you know, Sanrio, the Hello Kitty people. Sanrio, whose austere yet friendly graphics and cast of round-headed, simplistic characters pressed every button in every little girl brain from Albany to Buenos Aires, from Valdosta to Vladivostok. Although Sanrio head Shintaro Tsujii's first character Strawberry would debut in 1962, Sanrio mainstay Hello Kitty would arrive in 1974 to become the trademark of a company that already owned gift shops, restaurants, film production companies, and a US distribution headquarters. 

September 1976 is what we're talking about here, the next stage of Sanrio's world domination strategy, Lyrica's first issue. Best known today as the debut of Osamu Tezuka's Unico, Sanrio's Lyrica strategy wasn't just to crank out a first class manga mag full of Twinkle Little Stars candy ads and comics that would appeal to their core audience of girls 6-12, but to use that magazine as either a stepping stone towards, or a brick hurled through, the metaphorical window of the American comic book market. Hence Lyrica's extensive use of color printing and its Western-style left hand binding, which may be just as confusing to us as it no doubt was to Japanese audiences. 
art: Yuko Namura
"Time Jump" by Mami Komori

Wait, what? Flipped manga? Flipped manga published by the Japanese? In the 1970s? Yes sir, all part of Sanrio's attempt to slide into the American comics scene. Don't take my word for it, let Fred Patten tell you what happened. He was there. Long story short; Sanrio was determined to publish comics in America, in spite of the punch-drunk state of the American comic book industry at the time, and in spite of the total lack of a distribution deal or really anywhere to sell a fat, phone-book sized magazine that didn't fit on the comics rack at the drugstore and looked weird on the magazine rack next to Jack & Jill and Boy's Life. 

product placement

Me? I got wise to this whole enterprise forty years after the fact, when a stack of Lyricas were rescued from a middle Georgia estate sale by the quick work of the proprietor of the Athens GA comic shop Bizarro Wuxtry. Over the past holiday season these Lyricas were divvied up between myself and actual comic book professionals, proving once again if you're ever anywhere near Athens, Bizarro Wuxtry is worth a stop, that's Bizarro Wuxtry, 225 College Ave, Athens GA. 

art: Mari Hizuki

Anyway, above and beyond Sanrio's territorial ambitions, Lyrica is an absolute shoujo manga gold mine. Top artists like Keiko "Toward The Terra" Takemiya, Hideko "Honey Honey" Mizuno, Ryoko Yamagishi, Minori Kimura, Mamio Komori, Izumi Yoko, Akemi "Silver Lions" Matsunae, Terumi "Pooky My Love" Otani, Seika "Posy Pile's Wonderful Day" Nakayama and a host of others brought their "A" game to this magazine, while Osamu Tezuka was in there keeping up with the younger generation and Shotaro Ishinomori's "Fantasy World Jun" expanded consciousnesses for a few issues. 

Shotaro Ishinomori's "Fantasy World Jun"

In Lyrica, science fiction mingled with romantic comedy, adaptations of Little Women followed otherworldly fantasy and heart-rending melodrama rubbed girly shoulders with do-it-yourself fashion tips and cozy wintertime recipes, all peppered throughout with ads for various Sanrio character goods ready for this week's allowance. 

Hideko Mizuno's "Legend"

Sure, Lyrica exemplfies that peak 70s shoujo style, a stylish assemblage of dinner-plate girl eyes, mounds of tousled Pre-Raphaelite girl hair, and long elephant-flared girl limbs sending billowing clouds of flower petals to drift lazily through the no doubt beautifully scented air. Lyrica is also a bittersweet reminder of what could have been, a messenger from that alternate universe where 70s America got fat chunks of Japanese girl comics alongside their Japanese boy robot cartoons and their gender-neutral Japanese autos and Japanese electronics. Imagine what the success of Lyrica would have meant! Not only would Japanese manga have had an American beachhead a good ten years ahead of schedule, but the sad retreat of American comics away from female readers would have been reversed long before Sailor Moon was even born, even. 

"Pooky My Love" by Terumi Otani

Noriko Kasuya

It's a lovely thought, but the harsh truth is that importing Japanese manga may not have even been part of the Sanrio masterplan. Lyrica's American branch secured stacks of work from a score of American comics veterans for their aborted launch, and as the thing never, you know, actually happened, what would have been the final editorial mix is left to speculation. 

furry comics were invented in Ancient Greece! art by Don Morgan

Only one piece of Sanrio's proposed Western Lyrica ever saw print; Don Morgan's elegant fantasy Metamorphoses, based on Ovid's epic narrative poem from ancient Greece. Metamorphoses was to be Shintaro Tsujii's own version of Fantasia, a highbrow showcase of awe-inspiring animation and stirring music. Unfortunately, the finished product was none of those things. Metamorphoses would premiere in a disastrous LA test screening and be recut and re-scored for a home video release as Winds Of Change, part of Sanrio's more successful foray into the then booming US home video market. 

Secrets Behind The Comics 

yet another Japanese iteration of "Little Women"

None of the other commissioned American Lyrica work has surfaced in the subsequent decades, tantalizing researchers such as myself, fascinated at the prospect of an American girls comic. At the time, romance comics were being cancelled left and right, the mystery books were mysteriously dying, and only Harvey Comics, with their parade of simplistic, obsessive-compulsive Richie Riches and Little Dots, was doing anything that approached Sanrio's cutesy minimalism. I believe - and history has proven me right on this one - I believe that when American comics readers are given Japanese manga delivered in an accurate and faithful presentation, they'll read the holy heck out of it. 

fashion fads for fall femmes
I forgot to wish you all a nice day. Now buy a lamp

Nevermind the American ambitions, Lyrica only lasted a few years in Japan. The stress of monthly color-manga deadlines saw fewer color and more text pieces. Eventually Lyrica would vanish in March of 1979, one more manga dream extinguished, one less place for Sanrio to advertise Hello Kitty lampshades and Patty & Jimmy chocolates. 

But what if Lyrica had prospered in the West? Would we have spent the 80s and 90s surrounded by the anime and manga Europe and Asia enjoyed? Would decades of fan proselytizing, anime club meetups and comic-con video room screenings all have been rendered superfluous by the success of one magazine? Probably not. Let's face it; for all Sanrio's multimedia efforts, the end result was mere memories of magic unicorns and nihilistic rams rammed into the impressionable brains of America's children. Children who grew up surrounded by Hello Kitty and Tuxedo Sam and Kerokerokeroppi and My Melody, who were sometimes mildly obsessed with the weird cartoons their babysitters rented, children who grew to adulthood yet never knew how close they got to a Hello Kitty-powered shoujo manga magazine on their very own newsstands.

-Dave Merrill

Keiko Takemiya says 'the end'