Sunday, August 31, 2008

anime data file

Stay informed on the vital statistics of all your favorite anime characters with these handy cards, provided free with your purchase of certain Japanese anime magazines circa 1980.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

ALWAYS DARING AND COURAGEOUS

(This article has been modified to include late-breaking STAR FLEET information.)

As an 80s teenager naturally I watched way too much MTV, wading through video after video, back when music videos were three-minute dramas with special effects, insane plots, action, adventure, girls in skimpy outfits, and explosions. Nowadays rock acts are too full of themselves to make videos where they turn into post-nuclear barbarians and/or fight zombies. Or maybe they realized that the budget for such nonsense comes right out of their pockets. At any rate, you turn on MTV in the early 80s and you don't know WHAT you're gonna see. Which is how I got to see STAR FLEET!



STAR FLEET is the English version of a Japanese live-action science fiction TV series from 1980 called X-BOMBER. This of course means it's a hodgepodge of concepts and visuals lifted from STAR WARS, SPACE CRUISER YAMATO, MESSAGE FROM SPACE, super robot cartoons, and other artistic triumphs. However, X-BOMBER breaks out of the lookalike pack with one simple method - it's a puppet show. The entire cast is THUNDERBIRDS-style puppets. This is not a Gerry Anderson show, so there's no effort to painstakingly mimic real life in 1/4th scale. This IS, however, a Go Nagai show, at least a show Go Nagai worked on, and therefore is vastly superior in every way, in that it has scary deformed villains, features crazy, nonsensical plot elements, and devotes a large part of its running time to a combination giant robot destroying things with fist and ray-gun.

The story, such as it is, involves the evil Imperial Master, the giant leader of a race of space-bugs and surgically-altered freaks. Imperial Master and his Imperial Alliance are looking for something called the F-Zero-One. He's decided the Earth has it, and sends Commander Makara out in a super space battleship to blow up Pluto in a friendly gesture. The Earth Defense Force, having never heard of the F-Zero-One, is not pleased by the destruction of Pluto, and in response sends out the X-Bomber to find out what the heck is going on. The X-Bomber is an experimental space cruiser with a crew of Scientist, Hero, Fat Guy, Mean Guy, and Funny Robot, later joined by Space Princess and Hairy Alien. When danger threatens, our heroes climb into three smaller spaceships that combine to form the super robot Dai-X!




As it turns out F-Zero-One has something to do with our beautiful space princess, who turns out to be from a destroyed planet, who may or may not have awesome cosmic powers, and has a mysterious connection to mysterious outer-space clipper ship called "The Skull", which shows up to save the X-Bomber whenever things look bleak. The 24 episodes of the series are filled with mighty struggles between fleets of model space warships, space mantises, Death Balls, the brainwashing of our heroes' old mentor, planets of evil trees and space hippies, and of course the final battle between the Imperial Master, played by a guy in an Imperial Master costume, and F-Zero-One, a 12-inch puppet.



It's easy to laugh at the idea of a dramatic science-fiction puppet series, but STAR FLEET winds up being a pretty entertaining show. The puppets all have a great anime-character look, the mecha design is great, the model work is excellent, and the Go Nagai influence means that the bad guys have wonderfully demented appearances. Commander Makara, striking a blow for Feminist Evil Space Commanders, not only dares to expose part of her cybernetic brain, but sports an eyepatch that is actually a little face that talks on occasion.


Puppets argue, wear camo in space, reveal cleavage, scream, die, and never take off their helmets, even in bed. There are lots of lasers, spaceships, explosions, exploding spaceship models, and models of spaceships that explode. The Dai-X is a guy in a giant robot suit, all distressed metal and flaking, battle-worn paint, who stomps around destroying bug tanks and smashing fighters with his giant metal fists. It's a really well designed robot that makes most of the Toei sentai robots look weak. In the climax of the series, they fly the Dai-X right into Makara's space battleship and start busting the whole place up in an orgy of destruction not seen since the final episode of GRANDIZER, and if that's not entertaining children's television I don't know what is.



Two years after its Japanese premiere, X-BOMBER found itself on ITV in England with English dubbing and a new title. STAR FLEET would also air in America on the Showtime cable channel, in two compilation films, "Thalian Space Wars" and "Space Quest For F-Zero-1". For years afterwards the show existed only in reruns and an 8-volume set of American VHS tapes.


The MTV connection? Well, Brian May, the talented QUEEN guitarist, has a son, and his son watched the hell out of STAR FLEET and soon Brian was too. Brian was struck by STAR FLEET's English theme song which was penned by Paul Bliss from the MOODY BLUES. Over a weekend with nothing much else going on, May called up some pals (including VAN HALEN's Eddie Van Halen) and they recorded their own bluesy rock version of the theme song. This was in turn released on an EP, which was this half-assed 1980s cross between a 45 single and a full LP album, usually used for extended dance remixes or stuff the label didn't know what else to do with but was contractually obligated to release. But anyway, Brian May took some footage from STAR FLEET and his own floating head and made a video, and it showed up on MTV, and it blew our minds! And now here I am writing about it years later.



I'm not going to go into too much detail about the show, mostly because there's a really comprehensive site about STAR FLEET / X-BOMBER here. The show was produced in literally a big warehouse in Tokyo by Cosmo Productions, which apparently existed only to produce X-BOMBER, and it seems to have been a forgotten casualty of the SF boom of the 70s and 80s, drowned in the tide of media aimed at a science-fiction hungry world. Too anime-style for the Supermarionation fans, too puppety for the anime fans, it carved out its own genre and remains in a class all its own.


Interested in seeing the show for yourself? You no longer have to haunt YouTube or the stacks of VHS cluttering up your local thrift store, or suffer the indignity of purchasing region-free DVD sets of Star Fleet from foreigners on the other side of the planet. Discotek Media just announced that they're going to be releasing STAR FLEET on DVD here in North America! Slated for sometime late 2016 or early 2017, this set will have the English version, with other details to be announced. Check back with Discotek for more information as it occurs, and in the meantime, keep watching the skies for the evil Commander Makara and the mysterious F-Zero-One!



Sunday, August 17, 2008

MAKE MINE MOMO!!

(This article originally appeared in LET'S ANIME #4, Fall 1993)

Make Mine MOMO!
Why I watch FAIRY PRINCESS MINKY MOMO
by Ed Hill

Ever since I went to my first convention and contracted that inexplicable fondness for the products of anime culture ('twas at the July 1988 Dallas Fantasy Fair, for the insatiably curious), I've met countless others with the same tastes, absorbed a lot of video, and even made the crossover into the ranks of would-be creators of the stuff. So I am not here to excoriate everything about so-called "fandom"; hell, i'd be shooting myself along with my targets. Besides, I can do that later.

Nope, what I'm here to do is take Dave up on a statement he made in the last issue, an editoral where he said he'd even run an article about the show FAIRY PRINCESS MINKY MOMO if anybody sent it in. Now, considering that I really dig this show, I figured that an article on it would be really cool, and that this was a golden chance for somebody to get one published. However, also knowing the taste and the cretinous nature of the dominant fanboy herd, it also occured to me that I was that somebody. So I sat down to write this splendid retrospective on the wonders of FAIRY PRINCESS MINKY MOMO (for convenience's sake, hereafter to be referred to as "MOMO").

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However, I ran into a brick wall - there exists no translated episode guide that I know of, episodes themselves are hard to find, and few people even considered translating the stuff that made it over here. This makes it rather impossible to write up something for it as worthy as the DEVILMAN or MAZINGER Z articles that have appeared in this magazine. So, I fudge a bit - herein, I offer some of the reasons that I say "Make mine MOMO!" - and why you should, too.

I have to admit my fascination with the whole thing started as a desire to be different. I got to hanging out with a rather scurvy lot of fans not long after I was introduced to anime. And since these were the guys I got most of my stuff from, most of it reflected their tastes. This meant that they mainly had lots of GUNDAM, lots of BUBBLEGUM CRISIS, and an extensive CREAM LEMON stash. Generally their attitude (like that of most fans these days) was that anything with a recent copyright date was good, old was bad, and if it didn't have cute girls with guns in it, they had no time for it. One day, they commenced to ragging on various things they hated - amongst them were the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Reiji Matsumoto, and anything Takahashi did before RANMA 1/2, as I recall.

But the show that seemed to bug them the most was something called MINKY MOMO. They thought it was the worst of them all. Now, since I happen to be somewhat contrary in nature, I figured that since they hated it, I ought to check this show out. After all, the other stuff they despised was really very good! So eventually I found some Momo episodes on an ancient tape of some other crap that a friend had, and gave it a watch. I thought that maybe even those geeks could be right about this one show - the name certainly wasn't encouraging! But, did you know, this MOMO was surprisingly good. and thusly did I become the unapologetic fan that I am today. As for reasons why I say this, just keep reading...

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First, I like the show because it's cute. Yes, cute. What's wrong with that, fanboy? There is a dread of the word 'cute' these days, and it's a damned shame. Cuteness is not bad in and of itself! It can be whimsical and fun - "cute" doesn't have to mean drippy and smarmy Care Bears or Rainbow Brite nonsense. At best it can be a reminder of happier times, of affection and good things. MOMO is cute, but not TOO cute. Besides, cute is always harder to take when it's accompanied by a moral, like in American cartoons. MOMO is not afflicted by any heavy, preachy "message." Sure, she goes about helping to fulfill dreams, but you never feel as if you learned anything from it! And some of the things she does, though minor, would be roundly condemned by parents and teachers alike in America. For example, to help a boy whose father is a jewel thief, she becomes the Red Cat and gets into a stealing contest with the guy! In a racing episode she mercilessly runs a fellow driver off the road and into a river. And there's the hilarious "Minky Rambo" scene from the opening episode of the second '91 MOMO series. Trust me, it's cute, but not wussy cute!

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Secondly, the show is quite funny and sports the occasional gonzo touch as well. There are jabs at other anime shows - the Red Cat episode takes pokes at LUPIN III, the racing episode was packed with SPEED RACER gags, and there are many others. The opening idol star number of the Minky Momo film "La Ronde In My Dream" features hilarious imitations of MACROSS' Minmay, MEGAZONE 23's Eve, and others. Also in the film Peter Pan and Slim Pickens' DR STRANGELOVE character Major "King" Kong show up quite a bit! And for the final perverse touch, why not consider the infamous ending of the first MOMO series, way back in '83? For those who don't know, here's the story. She's nearly completed her mission on Earth; one more dream fulfilled and the last jewel on the Magic Crown will be in place and the Dream Land of Phenarinartha will come back to Earth and everything will be groovy. Happy ending, right?

Well, no. Momo loses her magic pendant - without its protection, she's as vulnerable as any other Japanese schoolgirl - and then she's SPOILER WARNING killed in a tragic car wreck! Her spirit then chooses to hang around Earth and wait to be reborn. Now is that a hell of a way to end a kids show, or what? No matter what you think of the rest of the series, you have to hand it to anybody with the balls to wrap it up like that, eh? How many of the current wretched crop of OVAs out today have as much grit
as this supposedly sickeningly-sweet children's program? Not very many, as I see it...

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Thirdly, although you can't exactly accuse the show of being overburdened by complex plot structures, I see that as a good thing! Sure, it verges on dumbness sometimes, but even when the show is dumb, it is that good, lighthearted kind of unpretentious dumbness that makes it all fun. For, above all, it's a fun show at heart. So what if there aren't any MOMO technical or resin giant robot model kits - I find the fan desire to "explain" every detail really tiresome! And besides, it being a kids' show makes it easier for the untutored gaijin to figure out what's going on without help. My personal opinion is that Momo is like your favorite toy from childhood - your affection for it may not have been entirely rational, but you loved the thing anyway, didn't you?

And before you start squawking that MINKY MOMO was meant for girls, consider this - anime itself, in every sense, was not made for ANY of us! It was made for a Japanese audience with a different culture and language and different tastes. They never even considered American anime fans into the equation at all! Whether you watch "boys" or "girls" or "adult" anime, nobody is going to think you any less strange. Do you think the Japanese will condemn you for watching one thing but approve of you watching another? Quite frankly, they don't care. Most of them have no idea anybody else from any other country watches their cartoons, and the ones that do will find it odd whether you watch MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM or MINKY MOMO.This doesn't mean that you shouldn't watch it, of course - what I'm trying to say is that since you're an outsider no matter what, why not just go ahead and reach for that forbidden fruit? Watch MINKY MOMO - you have no reputation to lose! Well, maybe your nerd friends will talk smack about you. But who cares what that gang of Priss-worshipping no-lifers thinks anyway?

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(note heavy metal hand gesture - ROCK ON MINKY MOMO!)

I'll be the first to admit that I can't explain every reason why I watch MINKY MOMO. It's like beer, I guess - an acquired taste. But I hope at least I came up with a few good reasons as to why you might spend a bit of time with the show. It has heart, it's cute, and it's funny - what more do you really need? Besides, if you have a thing for pink hair, this is the show for you! So, until next time kids, remember -- "Pipuruma, Pipiruma, Purilinpa! Papareho, Papareho, Dorilinpa!!"

Ed Hill is a cartoonist residing in Arlington Texas. He's noted for his strip FAIRY PRINCESS YUKIO MISHIMA and for singing the MINKY MOMO theme song at karaoke events.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

animanga A.P.A.

In the latter half of the Reagan Era, fan artists and writers couldn't communicate via the Information Superhighway or "texting" each other on our "cell phones" - we had to use Stone Age tools like Xerox machines and staplers and the US Post Office. What the hell am I talking about now? Why, Amateur Press Associations, or A.P.A. for short.

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(Queen Millenia art by Paul Sudlow)

The APA has been around in one form or another for a long time - our Founding Fathers used "Committees Of Correspondence" to disseminate information in the heady days of the American Revolution, and your saintly, silver-haired grandma probably sent "round-robin" letters to friends and relatives around the country swapping news and recipies and gossip about What Really Happened To Uncle Bob. The fan APA isn't too different - it's basically a self-published magazine where each member produces his own submission. Everybody sends their pages - enough copies for every member of the APA - to a central collator (or "Offical Editor"), who puts it all together and mails the collated magazine out to all the members. It is, or was, a complicated yet old-fashioned way for creative types to share their work with others, get feedback on their current projects, network with other like-minded individuals, and sometimes engage in hateful, vitriolic arguments over the most useless topics imaginable.

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(cover to #1 with art by Paul Sudlow)

For Japanese anime fans in the 80s who wanted to write and draw about their favorite characters, the APA was the way to go. In 1986 a Tennessee undergrad named Paul Sudlow started one with the working title "Anime And Manga APA". This was later changed to the vastly superior "Animanga", a fairly obvious combination of the two words that has since gone on to be used by a wide variety of publications and organizations. But in the beginning it was simply an APA made up of guys (and a few gals) who liked to talk about their favorite Japanese animation.

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(cover to #3 with great Rich Arnold art)

ANIMANGA would last for fourteen years, through four different collators ("Offical Editors") and 54 bi-monthly or later quarterly issues of self-published comics, fan art, fan fiction, fan speculation, arguments, political rants, travelogues, sketches, works in progress, video swaps, appropriated works, copyright violations, you name it. Members hailed from the States, Canada, Japan, and points between, and ranged in age from 17 year old punks to 40ish fan veterans, most of whom were way better artists than I was. Some members would go on to direct animated films or successful careers in comics or animation, other members would get married to each other, others would start anime conventions or magazines or drop off the face of the Earth and never be heard from again.

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(Animecon 91 report illustrated by David Rains)

There were other anime-themed APAs - U.S.A. Yatsura, Hasshin APA, Sasha APA, Endless Road APA, Starsha APA, Bird Scramble (the Gatchaman APA), even APAs devoted to 'esper' themed anime like JUSTY and LOCKE. But I was in ANIMANGA from beginning to end so that's what I'm writing about.

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(swell hand-colored cover by Steve Krueger)

APA contributions (or "tribs") varied widely, but a few basics were always there - you'd have a cover or a logo with some kind of cutesy title for your own personal "trib", with contact info so your pals in the APA could call or write when the mood struck them. Imagine doing that on the internet these days! Usually you'd include a segment commenting on the tribs of other members from the previous issue. If you had read their trib and enjoyed it, but didn't have anything in particular to say, you'd just write 'RAEBNC' as shorthand for "read and enjoyed but no comment." The artists among us would try to work up something interesting or unique for the issue - most of the comic artists would either run continuing stories in the APA itself, or use the APA to showcase roughs and ideas for works that were being published elsewhere.

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(Andy Temple's Urusei Yatsura fan comics. I loved those things.)

The more accomplished among us would create "how-to" tutorials on lettering, inking, reproduction, and other basics of the comics world. Several fan fiction writers spent their ANIMANGA time serializing their multi-part crossover fanfic epics, and the 'big tent' nature of the fandom of the time meant that your average ANIMANGA would feature anthropomorphic furry adventures, American superhero parody comics, Dr. Who jokes, and Babylon 5 fan art alongside your Dr. Slump drawings and your version of Project A-Ko or your Dirty Pair/Urusei Yatsura crossover fan comic. And if you didn't have anything to say, but couldn't bear to let an issue go by without participating, you'd do the absolute minimum and MINAC ("minimum activity") with just one page saying "sorry, more next time".

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(Paul Young draws my "Jet Jaguar" character)


In my mind APAs are part and parcel of the pre-internet days when things were a bit simpler. We didn't have high speed internet, satellite TV, or an anime convention every weekend to constantly demand our attention. The pace of fandom moved slower - many a lazy summer afternoon or rainy day would be spent re-reading APAs or working on your next trib. Fan feuds took months and months to play out in the comments section of APAs, as opposed to the 24 hour blitzkrieg half-life of today's fan fisticuffs.

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(JUNKSPACE - original John Ott comics)

And there was always a little tension in the APA - the more traditional American style cartoonists felt threatened by this big-eyed Japanese stuff that was all speed lines and zipatone. The manga style artists felt they were on the cutting edge of what comics SHOULD be. And everybody hated the furries. Members would use ANIMANGA to hash out political philosophies, take jabs at disagreeable aspects of modern culture, or spread malicious fan gossip. Looking back at the APA, it's amazing how seriously we all took this little self-published magazine - pulling all-nighters, spending hundreds of dollars on printing and mailing, all for something that was only going out to 20 or 30 people, tops. I guess that's the nature of fandom - 'fan' is, after all, short for 'fanatic'. In those days there wasn't any time for fence-sitting wishy-washy maybes, it was all or nothing.

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(Tim Eldred showcasing some commercial Harlock work)

These days the urge of artists and writers to share their work with the world has been satisfied by dozens of websites devoted to fan art, fan fiction, webcomics and other creative endeavours of all stripes. The societal urge is filled with Livejournals and Myspaces and Facebooks. You can shoot your own movies and share them with the world via YouTube, have your press release blog picked up by Digg or Reddit, and potentially reach millions of people with less trouble than it took us to knock out one APA trib that would be seen by twenty or thirty people, max.

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(cut and paste collage cover by me)

This was all just starting to percolate into existence when ANIMANGA took its last bow with issue #54 in 2001; at the time I didn't know what would replace the APA, I just knew that the membership was dwindling and it was getting tougher and tougher to cajole members into actually getting their tribs in on time. Plus, we were all getting older and had jobs. Those of us with creative jobs were finding it harder and harder to spend our leisure time doing what we did all day to pay the rent. Anyway, what ANIMANGA accomplished then is now done in a fraction of the time with a fraction of effort, and the added benefit of not killing any trees.

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(Twin Peaks travelogue vacation notes by S. M.)

At the same time, I miss the homely circle-of-friends world of the APA. Even if you'd never met any of the members in person, being part of an APA put one in a select group of people whose membership was predicated upon actual participation. We were all struggling to meet deadlines, all working to make the APA bigger and better, and being part of a group like that was kind of inspirational. I think most creative types are more likely to work harder knowing there's an audience reading their work, even if it is a small one, and even if the only response is the eternal RAEBNC.

(all artwork used in this article is copyright the original artists)