Wednesday, June 24, 2009

JUST DOING THIS TO MESS WITH OUR HEADS

Wouldn't it be great if Kodansha's "Osamu Tezuka Manga Complete Works" editions were in English? Well, they kinda are.

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Yes! A charmingly typewritten synopsis of his classic shojo manga PRINCESS KNIGHT! True, the rest of the comic is in Japanese, but it's a start. Is there more?

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AMBASSADOR MAGMA aka SPACE GIANTS! All right! So, how different is this from the Space Giants show we enjoyed as children?

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Yeah, that's pretty different. For one thing, token Caucasian reporter "Liz" isn't even mentioned! Hey, what about KIMBA THE WHITE LION, you know, JUNGLE EMPEROR?

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No, that's not Santa Claus there, it's Hige Oyaji and a grown-up Kimba - now named Leo - bravely facing the elements atop Mount Moon! A grown up Kimba?? What the heck?

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Yes, the original manga goes places NBC would not dare to enter. At least not in cartoon form. But enough of these popular Tezuka works - did Kodansha release Complete Works editions of his more, shall we say, obscure manga?

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Yes! Yes they did. JET KING, the story of an alien boy who can change his shape at will to better defeat evil, has a spoiler right in the English synopsis, so don't read it! Also in this volume, HIKARI is the story of a boy with crazy hair and two handguns who fights gangsters. Based on a true story.

But what about ASTRO BOY? I can hear you now, where's TETSUWAN ATOMU? Okay, here's your MIGHTY ATOM already.

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This volume contains the story "The Three Magicians", which was one of the first Astro Boy stories I was ever exposed to, as it is also the subject of this LP:

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Those three magicians get around.

Somebody should take the hint and get to work giving this classic Tezuka manga some actual North American releases; PRINCESS KNIGHT would sell like cotton candy at the fair and who would pass up a chance to own the original stories behind SPACE GIANTS and KIMBA THE WHITE LION? Not me! In the meantime, I suppose we'll have to be content with 30 year old typewritten summaries.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

ROKUSHIN GATTAI GOD MARS!!

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Six enormous colorful super robots erupt from hiding to protect Takeru Myojin, a 17-year old member of the Crasher Squad who, in reality, is actually a space alien named Mars from the planet Gishin with super ESP powers sent here to destroy the Earth! Will his fellow Crasher Squad members let their suspicion and mistrust of Takeru ruin their friendship? Will Emperor Zule succeed in killing Takeru and detonating the Earth-destroying bomb hidden inside the super robot "Gaia"? Will Takeru's twin brother Marg resist Zule's mind control before he's forced to battle Mars to the death? And will Takeru/Mars realize his six super robots will combine to form the Six God Combination God Mars, the most powerful robot in the universe? The answers to all these questions may be found in ROKUSHIN GATTAI GOD MARS, the 64-episode 1981 series from Tokyo Movie Shinsha that raised the bar for colorful, well-designed super robot animation as well as heart-rending cosmic sibling melodrama.

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One of TMS's few robot anime titles (the others include their 1980 remake of TETSUJIIN-28 and 1983's SUPER DIMENSION CENTURY ORGUSS), it quickly downplays the "enemy robot of the week" formula in favor of cosmic soap opera, and the melodrama and tears continue right until the end of the series. MARS, a 1976 Shonen Champion manga series by pioneer Mitsuteru Yokoyama, drew on the science fictional ESPer hero themes explored in his earlier works such as BABEL II and THE NAME IS 101, spiced with flavors of the giant robot guardian motif originated in his TETSUJIIN-28 and GIANT ROBO series.

TMS continued the evolution in GOD MARS. Where there was once one super robot guardian, GOD MARS now gives us six separate super powerful giant robots that combine into one ultra-unstoppable mechanical deity, the centerpiece of a shiny, colorful space opera that captivated audiences around the world.

The story? 17 year old Takeru Myojin is a member of the Crasher Squad, the rapid-reaction space unit of the Earth Defense Forces in the future year 1999. Troubled by strange dreams, confronted by mysterious assassins from outer space, Takeru learns his real name is Mars. As an infant, he was sent to Earth from planet Gishin as part of a secret plan by its evil Emperor Zule. Possessed of super ESP powers, Mars can summon the gigantic robot Gaia, which in addition to being your typical super strong robot, also contains a super bomb capable of destroying the entire planet Earth! The emperor's plan is thwarted, however, because Takeru rejects Zule and Gishin, instead choosing to defend his adoptive home planet alongside the Crasher Squad - Mika Hinata (girl), Akira Kiso (chubby guy), Asuka Kenji (captain), Naoto Izyuujin (the cool guy), and Namida (audience-identification kid), all led by Commander Ohtsuka (exactly the same character from TETSUJIIN-28, right down to the pot belly and moustache).

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Luckily for Takeru and the Earth, his real father on Gishin secretly sent five other robots to Earth. Awaiting Takeru's summons, these five robots - Sphinx, Uranus, Titan, Shin, and Ra - slumber in locations across the globe but when Takeru commands "ROKUSHIN GATTAI!", they burst forth from their hiding places and combine into GOD MARS.

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With a reputation built on anime adaptations of high-profile manga including shojo titles (ROSE OF VERSAILLES), sports drama like AIM FOR THE ACE, and the long-running adult comedy LUPIN III, TMS was known for bright, stylish animation with an international flair. ROKUSHIN GATTAI GOD MARS would be no exception. The show practically vibrates right out of the TV with the brightest, cleanest, cheeriest color palate since that time the NBC Peacock dropped acid at a wild Technicolor corporate party. The skies are impossibly blue, the trees are vibrantly green, rockets blast with clouds of flame, ray-guns scintillate and sparkle. The Six God robots aren't wasted in some tedious rainbow motif but each have their own color schemes and visual identities, and the God Mars combination is distinctive and friendly, a big clunky multicolored skyscraper of a robot that must have been a bitch for the animators. It's a series that caught American anime fans' eyes when it was nothing more than opening credits on a compilation tape; even jammed together with hundreds of other OP titles from hundreds of other similar super robot cartoons, GOD MARS stands out.

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Thematically GOD MARS also excels. Abandoning the traditional 8 year old boy audience entirely, GOD MARS adopts melodramatic space opera storyline full of tragedy, loss, and heartbreak, embodied in its fan-favorite character, Takeru's shy, retiring, dreamy twin brother Marg. Held in the palace of Zule on Gishin, Marg telepathically warns his brother of impending danger until Zule brainwashes him for use as a living weapon against Takeru in a tragic battle of brothers. The first third of the series is filled with angst and more than a bit of sloppy emo brotherly emotion as both Mars and Marg agonize over the fates that have kept them from a normal sibling relationship. Meanwhile, Takeru's pals in the Crasher Squad and the EDF begin to realize that Mars is a space alien related to the other space aliens who are destroying Earth, and also, if he dies, the whole world goes boom. So there's a lot of suspicion, soul-searching, moody moping, and protective custody. Meanwhile the girl Gishin super-ESPer ace Rose swears to defeat Takeru, but eventually realizes that not only is Gishin wrong to attack Earth, but as one of the few speaking female roles in the show, it's up to her to provide some hetero non-incest romantic interest; so we're treated to a half-hearted romance between Rose and Mars. This in no way dimmed the Mars/Marg relationship, which would inspire reams of disturbing twincest fan fiction and set the template for a generation of dreamy boy-love dreams.

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The show makes a brave attempt at romance between Mars and Rose, but you can tell their hearts really aren't in it, especially as a late-series plot point involves Rose being possessed by the spirit of Marg! It's a shame because Rose is one of those starts-off-evil but later-becomes-good characters with one of the few real character arcs in the show, and deserves to be more than a beard. Nobody takes the Rose/Mars hookup seriously, the nonexistent romance between Mrs Myojin and Commander Ohtsuka is more believable.

The 64 episodes of GOD MARS are divided up into three distinct sequences; the Gishin Chapter, the Marume chapter, and the Earth chapter. As the fight with Zule wraps, Earth finds itself smack dab in the middle of one of those fugitive space-princess sagas as Flore arrives, a refugee from a war on planet Marume, where the evil emperor Giren has conquered the planet next door. Sought by both Giren and the mysterious space pirate ship "Frontier", Flore is given asylum on Earth, and just like what happened when the United States gave asylum to the Shah of Iran, Earth is attacked by both Giren's space fleet and by the Frontier, captained by the mysterious Gasch. Luckily for all concerned Flore has super ESP powers. Takeru and the Crasher Squad travel to Marume and involve themselves in the civil war between two peoples defined by their magnetic orientations. No, seriously.

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Emperor Giren and Flore battle psychically

This 'Marume Chapter' is really curious; we're treated to Gasch's space pirate ship which is equipped with sails and masts and bowsprits, one of the lead figures in the Marume war is a religious leader we can only refer to as the "Space Pope", there is an extended combat sequence where guys on skis battle tanks and airplanes, and the power level of God Mars is amplified to such an extent that Takeru can stand on the surface of a planet hundreds of light years away and call his robot protectors from Earth, who arrive within minutes to fill up air time with yet another repeat of the Six God Combination Robot Combination Sequence, two solid minutes of animation that can be used and re-used and re-re-used every episode.

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Gasch and Flore battle psychically

The Marume saga wraps with peace breaking out among the twin planets and with Takeru and the Crasher Squad learning that Emperor Zule is once again threatening Earth from beyond the death dimension, or some such Kirbyesque nonsense. And thus begins the Earth Chapter. The writers realized they'd written themselves into a corner with the awesome, unbeatable power of God Mars, and so Takeru/Mars is hobbled by psychic handcuffs that drain his life force every time he yells "ROKUSHIN GATTAI!".

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The ZULECUFFS!

Only the mysterious space-surfing Rose Knight can show up in the nick of time every episode to distract the villian of the week long enough for Mars to save the day! Yes, years before Tuxedo Mask was rescuing Sailor Moon, the Rose Knight was pulling the same kind of lazy-writers duty in GOD MARS. Who is the mysterious Rose Knight? I wonder if it's actually the character named Rose in disguise?

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There, just spoiled the show for you.


A GOD MARS compilation film was released in 1982 and it's that movie which familiarized most American audiences with the show. And "familiarized" is probably too strong a word, as judging from the reviews the movie left most viewers confused and slightly irritated, a natural reaction to any film that shoehorns 25 episodes of action into 95 minutes and hands it to a continent of people who aren't already familiar with the concepts. GOD MARS remains a footnote of the 1980s anime boom, albeit one with staying power; GOD MARS got its own OVA remake in 1988 (featuring a girlfriend for Marg!) and a back-to-basics OVA adaptation of MARS was released by KSS in 1994. Among North American anime fans GOD MARS is mostly known these days for being the subject of some really well designed toys and dreamy boy ESPer fanfic.

Which is a pity; because GOD MARS is an entertaining show. Even if you just want to sit back in the couch and let the Crasher Squad's space attack plane zip through the impossibly blue skies to the tune of the "God Mars" theme song, the show is so colorful, so visually appealing, and so well animated (in parts) that anybody who enjoys animation will find something to like about at least part of it. Had GOD MARS been on American televison in the 1980s I predict it would have been a hit or at least a fondly remembered cult classic; Europe got a good chunk of the show and it's still fondly remembered over there. The closest North America ever got was the TMS/NBC coproduction MIGHTY ORBOTS, a five-god combination robot controlled by clean-cut non-twin Rob Simmons and his robot little sister Ohno. ORBOTS was directed by Osamu Dezaki, creating hands down the best looking American network Saturday morning cartoon ever, though hobbled by typical focus-group approved American cartoon scripting.

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know the difference.
It may very well be true that there are vast chunks of GOD MARS that are tangential to the main storyline, if not outright nonsensical digressions. I mean, seriously, space popes?! But all the recycled robot combination sequences and tacked-on plot extenders can't hide the power of GOD MARS - the struggle of Takeru Myojin to move beyond his tragic past and find his place in the world. And if that place is to be the super-ESPer master of an immensely powerful six-god combination robot, then so much the better for us all.

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Farewell, Rose! Farewell, Mars!