Sunday, July 20, 2008

have some candy

Straight from the Miss Pony Orphan's Home to you, it's Candy Candy! One of the most popular shojo manga characters to ever bat her dinner-plate-sized eyeballs at dreamy boys on several continents, this adorable orphan emerged from the early 20th century Michigan woods with a pet raccoon and a impish desire to cause trouble.

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The manga by Kyoko Mizuki and Yumiko Igarashi was originally serialized in Nakayoshi (home of Princess Knight and Sailor Moon). Toei Animation Company animated a CANDY CANDY television series that ran for 115 episodes from 1976 until '79. The show was broadcast in Argentina, Italy, Hong Kong, France, Puerto Rico, Africa, Southeast Asia, Canada, et cetera; and garnered a fanbase of soap-opera loving fans throughout the world. A dispute between Mizuki and Igarashi put the rights of the series into question for years, meaning one thing; no new CANDY CANDY.

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CANDY CANDY's blend of exotic Western locales, the frilly shojo visual motifs of ribbons, curls, and flowers, and a melodramatic storyline that involves doomed romances, sabotaged romances, class-barrier-defying romances, and the First World War, remains popular even without legitimate releases. The memories of millions of worldwide fans and the interest of American shojo fans, themselves denied a childhood of CANDY CANDY merchandise, will no doubt keep this show firmly lodged in the frontal lobe of the collective unconscious.

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In America, CANDY CANDY got all of one home video release in the early 80s from ZIV International, the folks who brought us English-language versions of the Toei series Captain Future, the "Take To The Sky" Captain Harlock, Angel, and Fables of The Green Forest. Dubbing was by Jim "Force Five" Terry. Reports of CANDY CANDY being broadcast on American television have yet to be verified.

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(additional crayon added by the original owner)

Help us increase the CANDY CANDY quotient by enjoying the contents of this red-vinyl 33 rpm single! Side A is the opening and ending theme to the CANDY CANDY anime TV series, and Side B is an amusing story involving Candy, her pal, and some rich kids. Even if you don't speak Japanese, you can enjoy the powerful stereo separation that still survives in spite of the pops and crackles. Keep seeking happiness, Candy!

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Monday, July 14, 2008

DO NOT TAUNT HAPPY FUN STICKER

One of the great things about our global economy, apart from the wonderful opportunities available for peasants in third-world sweatshops, is the mysterious way art, commerce, and disdain for copyright laws come together to create cheap gimmicks for children. Case in point: puffy stickers.

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Once the decorating choice of 4th-graders everywhere, the puffy sticker has recently been replaced in the hearts of schoolchildren by newer, more garish self-adhesive creations. But there was a time when a notebook or a about-to-be-painted bedroom wall was not complete without these colorful, slightly-yielding accoutrements.

The puffy stickers highlighted today feature a raft of swiped, traced, illegally copied, and otherwise ripped off characters from Japanese anime and SF pop culture; some instantly recognizable, others more obscure. I like to think that a close examination of bootlegged merchandise reveals the inherent power in these images - stripped of context and devoid of any kind of ancillary merchandise, these characters possess strange hypnotic powers over the minds of children, and adults who think like children. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

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This example features an obvious Great Mazinger and two characters from Starzinger, Jan Kugo and Don Haka, otherwise known as Jesse Dart and Porkos. Also visible is a really poorly traced Getta Robo head - the head of Getta One - and a couple of generic spaceships, one of which faintly resembles the Phoenix from Gatchaman, but I'm not going to push it. Let's move on.

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Our second example is an even more confusing mixed bag: an axe-wielding Getta Robo looms over a strangely grinning Danguard Ace while Jinpei's swallow vehicle from Gatchaman II and Sir Jogo's space scooter from Starzinger flit around in the background. Watching all this is the disembodied head of Voltes V. At the top is a confusing vehicle that seems to be made up of bits and pieces of other machines; the only one that leaps to mind is the Blugar (aka "Rydoto") from Raideen. And that's a "maybe". The bird nose doesn't fit at all.

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Just when you thought things couldn't get more obscure - and let me tell you, it's hard to get more obscure than bootleg Taiwanese puffy stickers of Japanese cartoon characters - here comes sticker #3!

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Okay, so there's Danguard Ace's head, and the God Phoenix from Gatchaman II, but what the heck are the rest of those things? Okay, the robot, it's poorly drawn, but my research indicates it's none other than Daitetsujin 17!
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Created by Shotaro Ishinomori as sort of a ersatz Gigantor/Giant Robo, this super robot was the star of a live-action series that was released in English on two VHS compilations entitled "Brain 17" and "Revenge Of The Defenders." But that bulbous-bodied, spike-nosed spaceship... what could that be from?

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It's the Galaxy Runner from Message From Space, the 1978 Toei Star Wars-inspired space epic starring Vic Morrow and Sonny Chiba! How cool is that? Very cool, believe me. One last piece of the puzzle to dope out here; what the hell is that flying dinosaur bird thing? Only two options spring to mind.

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It's either Rocross from the Mitsuteru Yokayama series Babel 2, or Zok from the Hanna-Barbera series The Herculoids! Or maybe they got together and had a baby and this was the baby grown up. I dunno. Sometimes the world of booleg anime merchandise leads down strange paths. Keep your eyes open, kids, you never know what lurks on the dusty aisles of your local convenience store!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS BEYOND THE MOON

This review originally appeared on Anime Jump in 2003.

You never can tell what you're going to find in the children's section. After convincing the girl next door to sell me her Astro Boy LP for $2, I became alerted to the possibilities of finding 60s Japanese animation items on vinyl. So there I was at wax'n'facts, arguably the best record store in Atlanta, incurring the amused glances of hipsters as I pored through their bin of kiddy records.

That's where I found the original motion picture soundtrack to Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon.


This 1965 Toei film was originally titled Gulliver's Space Journey and was directed by Yoshio Kuroda. It was released over here by Walter Reade-Sterling and Continental, two names that have long ceased to mean anything in Hollywood, but which spent the 1960s importing Japanese films (Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster), British films (This Sporting Life) and fake Cinerama travelogues (Mediterranean Holiday).

I can only imagine what it must have been like to see this thing in a theater. I wonder about this mostly because the film was shot in Tohoscope, and no extant licensed copies (in English, anyway) are letterboxed. Once relegated to off-air videotapings and bootleg video release, in the early 2000s bargain-bin DVD publisher Catcom released Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon on a double-feature DVD with the Dave and Max Fleischer Gulliver's Travels from 1939. Public domain copies of the Fleischer Gulliver's Travels have been clogging retail shelves and thrift store bins for years and years, and for years and years I've looked at every one of them in the hopes that it would be Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon instead. Now, thanks to Catcom, I can quit looking.
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Catcom's DVD release is more or less a digital transfer of the same grey-market print of Gulliver that has been making the rounds on VHS for a few years - faded colors, fuzzy sound, and even a few good old-fashioned drops and calibration errors. What you'll seeing on this DVD isn't very far from the experience I first had when seeing the film on a VHS tape I think I swapped a subtitled copy of Nausicaa for - a fuzzy look at Toei's first excursion into science-fiction animation.

Don't let the title fool you. This isn't some tedious literary adaption, like the 1940s Fleischer Gulliver that accompanies our film on this DVD. Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon is one of the first entries in a field that would define Japanese animation - children's space adventure.

Even so, this is a space cartoon unlike any that came before, and sadly, unlike any that came afterwards. It's dominated by character designs influenced heavily by the experimental eastern European animation of the day, and mechanical designs that are more Museum Of Modern Art than Astounding Science Fiction. There are op-art dream sequences, haunting landscapes reminiscent of Salvador Dali, and legions of abstract robots whose destruction gives new meaning to the term "cubism".

Our hero Ricky is a homeless orphan in what appears to be a dilapidated European country, wandering alone and friendless. After meeting a talking dog and a talking toy soldier, they head over to the amusement park for some late-night rollercoaster action. Once the security guards get wise, they chase our heroes to an island, where they find a giant rocket ship commanded by Gulliver of Lilliput fame, who hasn't lost the itch for travel and is now going to outer space. He's headed for the Hope Star, a mysterious planet where dreams come true!





Soon our heroes are blasted into outer space, braving zero gravity and mysterious time reversals. But they persevere and soon are approaching the Hope Star. Before they can land, however, a squadron of strange space ships forces our heroes to land on the Hope Star's companion planet, the Blue Star. The strange, Calder-esque beings of the Blue Star are weird-looking, but friendly. They explain that the Hope Star is ruled by robots! Robots that they themselves built!

In true pulp-SF fashion, the King explains that years ago the citizens of the Hope Star built robots to fulfill their every need. Soon the people were lazy and had no ambition and just wanted to sit around all day downloading stuff from the Internets. When the robots became intelligent and took over the planet, all the people could do was flee to the Blue Star, where they endure daily flying saucer attacks from the robots.






This historical background is explained in a terrifying musical number entitled "Rise Robots Rise", which is as close as anime ever gets to Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. Legions of blank-faced, goose-stepping robots conquer the Hope Star, crushing all in their path with mechanical precision. The final touch is the musical score, a surprisingly atonal Moog synthesizer freakout that undoubtedly haunts Keith Emerson's dreams to this day.

This is a good spot to mention the film's musical score, by Milton and Anne DeLugg. Mr. DeLugg has written songs for everybody from Perry Como to Frank Sinatra, from Morey Amsterdam to Soupy Sales. He wrote the music and was the bandleader for Chuck Barris's Gong Show. Milton's talent is in full effect here - Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon is hands down the best American-made soundtrack to any Japanese animated film ever. Sprightly children's chorus singalongs, jazzy orchestral brass, atmospheric keyboard work - it's all here.


Anyway, horrified by the Rising Of The Robots, Ricky and the gang decide that they've got to go to the Hope Star and do battle. Plus, the robots have captured the King's daughter. So it's off to outer space once again.

Luckily, life in this region of the universe has one weakness - plain, ordinary water! Upon contact with it, even the robots disintegrate into tiny little cubes! One can imagine Michael Kupperman's comic-strip Picasso screaming I BREAK-A YOU DOWN INTO LEETLE CUBES!! Armed with his water pistol, Ricky's High Noon showdown with the Robot Posse leads to victory! However, the robots have a secret weapon - a GIANT robot, invulnerable to water, controlled by normal-sized robots in the head. Can Ricky defeat this behemoth? What dreadful secret haunts the people of the Blue Star? Don't reveal the shock ending of this picture to your friends!!



This is a really entertaining film. Sure, this is a movie about a boy and his talking dog friend and how they go into outer space with a talking crow and a talking toy soldier and Gulliver, and there are countless children's films with plots just as wacky or wackier that in the end are tiresome wastes of time. Not Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon. This film is alternatively startling, bizarre, or fun, sometimes all three at once. There are few films, anime or otherwise, that have such a unique and powerful visual sense.

The dubbing is peculiar; I don't recognize any of the voices from Fred Ladd's TITRA studio, and a 60s Japanese cartoon without a Peter Fernandez or a Billie Lou Watt is a strange animal indeed. The voice talents are a cast of unknowns (led by a Stephen DeLugg - hmmmm) and are fairly low-key, but directed with the same staccato cadence typical of the voice acting of the period.

PhotobucketCatcom's DVD release is of course a mixed bag. I enjoy the double feature motif and I like the extras like cartoons and commercials (the cartoons on this disk are a pair of Fleischer's Gabby cartoons, starring one of the Lilliputians from their Gulliver film, and are uniformly terrible). However, as I said before, the picture quality of Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon is on the level of a low-end VHS release. What's more, I hate their menus - select one of two choices, and all that happens is they switch colors. Unless you know which color means "selected", you won't know which one you chose until you're halfway through the opening credits of the Fleisher Gulliver. Catcom, please add a little arrow or something to help your dimmer customers out.

In spite of these presentational flaws. this is a film I can't recommend too highly, and should be owned by anyone with an interest in film, visual culture, Japanese animation, or montage sequences about robots conquering entire planets. Even though the DVD is out of print, a little research is all that stops you from joining Gulliver on his trip Beyond The Moon.