Friday, May 31, 2013

Royal Space Fanzine



I first saw Royal Space Force: Wings Of Honneamise on somebody’s laserdisc in his dorm room in what I believe is Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, GA, while en route to a wedding in Florida.  In those pre-Akira days we were always on the lookout for something to impact North America’s cultural radar and show everybody that these Japanese cartoons weren’t merely transforming robot toy ads or cutesy children’s distractions, but art with a capital A. Was Honneamise going to be that movie? We sure thought so.  It’s a unique beast, fitting neither into the narrow confines of toy-driven anime clich├ęs nor the shiny metal militarism of 80s science fiction; a thoughtful, introspective film set in a obsessively realized fictional world, asking fundamental questions about man’s relation to man and his environment, the director’s only film and the first movie from a studio that would never make anything else quite like it.  

Then; Akira, a game-changer if there ever was one. Here we are a quarter-century later in a world where anime films win Oscars and highlight film festivals, and who remembers Wings Of Honneamise? Carl Gustav Horn does. He took time out from his professional work editing manga for Dark Horse and put together this gorgeous, challenging magazine celebrating the 25th anniversary of Wings Of Honneamise, or as Carl prefers to call it, Royal Space Force. RSF for short. 


Yeah, a fanzine, an actual printed fanzine that you can hold in your hand and roll up and hit your sullen kid sister with, produced courtesy HP’s print on demand service Magcloud; filled with essays and analysis about RSF and its place in the world by Carl G. Horn and by AWO’s Gerald Rathkolb, Ninja Consultant Erin Finnegan, TOR.COM’sTim Maughan, analoghousou’s wildarmsheero, and Brian “Answerman” Hanson. Beautifully designed in full color, the zine is filled with photos of model kits and shrines to Miyazaki and Yamaga and a Bandai Monopoly set (“merge with Popy; 14,227,000 shares”), Jack Chick tracts, photo-collages, old zines, theater tickets, TDK HD-X PRO T-120 video tape, postcards, 45 singles, Kenichi Sonoda sketches,  and vinyl of Noriko Takaya from Gunbuster.

It’s a tremendously dense ‘zine. Not a lot of films can stand up to this kind of scrutiny. RSF carries the weight, though; an ambitious movie produced by people who had grown up otaku, would in fact make the very term “otaku” a household word worldwide, and now would move heaven and earth and 800 million yen to drag the art of Japanese animation forward at 24 frames a second, to break out of the ever-amplifying feedback loop of increasingly cooler robots and increasingly cuter girls, to move anime from “pop culture” to just plain “culture”. 


Whether or not they succeeded is another story; not even this zine achieves consensus, with some contributors taking the film to task for... well, let’s face it, it’s a stunningly well-realized world that we see an awful lot of, and just like our world, interesting things are not always happening. Several contributors explore the film’s mirror-image relation to our own cold war and concomitant space programs, and Horn takes a close look at 1985’s Plaza Accord, which increased the value of the yen versus the dollar and suddenly made imports of Japanese goods prohibitively expensive, as well as the film’s strange worldwide premiere at what is now the TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood as a rewritten, English-dubbed curiosity titled “Star Quest”. It is a remarkable film in nearly every aspect and like any other challenging, multifaceted project, some parts are more successful than others. 


Even if you aren’t a fan of the film – there is that out-of-left-field rape scene, after all – you’ll find this zine an essential snapshot of the anime industry circa 1987, with more data about Gainax’s corporate trajectory, the Miyazaki/Yamaga connection, the incredible pedigree of talent assembled for the film, which included Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and future Evangelion director Hideaki Anno, who ditched working on 1984’s Macross movie to get back to making the Daicon IV film. Filled with these kind of priceless anecdotal tidbits, this RSF fanzine is an exploration of both high art and shameless commerce; the lofty ideals and the brutal reality of animated filmmaking. Gainax would move forward from the less-than-blockbuster reception of RSF and re-make the anime world in its image, but even at their most fanservicey or successful, they still aren’t afraid of a little failure in the pursuit of innovation. 


This 25th Anniversary Fanzine for Royal Space Force is, as I see it, nothing less than a challenge thrown in the face of everything we call ‘fandom’. It says, what’s your excuse? Why aren’t you making a zine this good about a film YOU love?  Can’t you imagine dozens of big, strikingly designed print-on-demand magazines about, say, Patlabor or Ghost In The Shell, Evangelion,  or even Galaxy Express, Sailor Moon or Mazinger Z? I can. Let’s get to work, people. That rocket isn’t going to launch itself.

ROYAL SPACE FORCE 25TH ANNIVERSARY FANZINE is available from HP Magcloud right this very minute, go get it.  
 

Friday, May 17, 2013

it's anime north time

What's that? It's May? That means it's time for Anime North!  Sorry, weekend admission tix are sold out, but you can still buy single-day passes. What will I be up to?  Let's find out.

I believe this is the 9th year I've done Anime Hell at Anime North. I had no idea how well the event would go over in 2005, but so far it's filled whatever event room it gets put in. We are following it up at midnight with a special screening of MESSAGE FROM SPACE, the 1978 Toei Star Wars-inspired space opera, so stick around!

 Saturday at 2 is the annual meeting of the Dead Format Society, a gathering of hoarders and junk hounds who can't bring themselves to get rid of any of that old technology that allows them to experience anime the way it was meant to be experienced; which is to say, on a CRT screen, untranslated, and suffering from "laser rot".

Sunday at 1pm join Shaindle Minuk and myself as Mister Kitty takes a look at the wonderful world of Stupid Comics. We've spent years finding hilariously bad gems of comic book art and now we're taking this show TO THE STREETS!!1! Or to the hotel function rooms, whichever.


Then at 2, Ric Zerrano and I will be taking a look at Yusei Shonen Papi otherwise known as Prince Planet! If you enjoyed the show as a kid or are just now finding out about this strange black and white space adventure show that sold candy to millions of Japanese children, you owe it to yourself to not miss this presentation.


See you at the show!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

property is theft is property


Hook-Ups, the extreme sports fashion brand that made its name with big-eyed busty anime girls – what, you don’t remember Hook-Ups? Too many extreme concussions while snowboarding, drinking clear Pepsi and eating your Arch Deluxe at Lollapalooza?  Well, it was kind of a 90s thing, vaguely anime-style sexy gal stickers you could put on your skateboard so that it looked cool while you were carrying it to and from places. What, ride that thing? Are you nuts?  From a distance we’d see the decals and think we were seeing an actual anime character, and then realize it was a Hook-Ups sticker, appropriating the Japanese animation aesthetic for its own edgy, Thrasher Magazine-reading purposes. 

Is it "Burn-Up" or an amazing Hook-Ups simulation?
 

The general aesthetic wasn’t the only thing that got appropriated, though. Lots of Hook-Ups art went beyond merely “working in the anime style” and right into using the actual production art of actual Japanese animation productions. We’re not talking a Roy Lichtenstein giant-canvas reworking either, we’re talking full on, don’t care, cut and paste stealin’. 



Bubblegum Crisis and Gatchaman get the treatment
 Brought to my attention recently on a message board, the extent of Hook-Ups’ cribbing is a thing of wonder. Properties both obscure and world-renowned found themselves repurposed as branded merchandise in wholesale image theft on a scale usually only present in flea markets and swap meets.   


Iczer-Two and Iria find exciting new life as skater stickers
  
Hook-Ups wasn’t alone in their anime pilfering. It was the 90s, everybody from album cover designers to comic-con video pirates knew Japanese cartoons would never get any sort of legitimate release, nobody’s using it here, why not take it? None of us figured Sailor Moon and Pokemon would take “anime” up from underground and into the mass media world of Happy Meals and Toys “R” Us. 

just put your own name on it, no one will know the difference
 
Unfortunately for the subcultural tastemakers, Japanese animation eventually went mainstream in a big way and lost every bit of counter-culture cache it might have had.  The big-eyed anime gal became a staple of Blockbuster and Fox Kids, hardly emblematic of the underground skater mindset.

Like other 90s icons AOL and Bill Clinton, Hook-Ups is still around, currently mining a supercute Junko Mizuno-esque motif.  Why waste money on original designs when so much artwork is out there free for the asking?  See also: Hot Topic.

Special thanks to “Usamimi” for locating these images.