Saturday, June 30, 2018

Beyond The Valley Of Further Under The Western Influence II: The Return

Almost ten years back I had an idea for a panel I could present at anime conventions; I'd talk about Japanese cartoons that were based on Western intellectual properties. You know, things like the Zuiyo Eizo Heidi anime or the various Little Women anime series or “license me in English” poster boy Future Boy Conan, fairy tale adaptations like Twelve Months, the various Wizard Of Oz versions, and iterations of science fiction icons like Captain Future, Lensman, and Frankenstein. I figured I could fill an hour with clips and discussion, maybe get a Let's Anime column out of the deal, and that would be the end of it. 

Was I wrong! The audience discussion, the myriad comments on the Let's Anime post, and my own research all pointed to one inescapable conclusion – that there are many, many more of these adaptations out there than I thought. I learned this field is seemingly inexhaustible – the more I look, the more of these things I find. There is what appears to be a never ending supply of Japanese cartoons based on American, European, and Middle Eastern sources. And sure, everybody knows about the cross-pollination of artistic styles between East and West, how Tezuka was inspired by Walt Disney cartoons and stacks of American comic books abandoned by G.I.s in Osaka rec centers, but the impact of generations of Japanese anime professionals immersing themselves in the canon of Western literature? That doesn't get a lot of discussion. 

So let this column, and the AnimeNEXT panel that inspired it, be a sequel to my 2009 piece, let me expand on the topic and cover some more anime that was created, as I like to say, under the Western influence. 

Thanks to fansubs I caught up with Perrine Story, the 1978 Nippon Animation series based on the Hector Malot novel about Perrine, who struggles to make her way from one end of Europe to another to find her estranged grandfather and experience the clash of class and race at the tail end of the 19th century. Nothing explains the power of Japanese animation quite like its ability to transcend genre and it's when you are on the edge of your seat hoping Perrine and her weakening mother and the long-suffering donkey Polikare can muscle their wagon up the muddy 19th century roads through the Alps, that's when you ask yourself, didn't I just watch an anime where an entire solar system was destroyed? - that's when you realize the true power of anime. I defy anyone to fail to be moved when that donkey makes a reappearance later in the show. 

Children's literature in the 19th century was gloomy disaster porn aimed at keeping the kids grateful for their fifteen mile walks uphill both ways to school in the snow, and Dog Of Flanders is no exception, but you wouldn't know it from the opening credits of this '75 Nippon Animation series, which makes the life of Nello and his dog Patrasche seem like swell times. Which they are not. 

Nobody's Boy became a 1970 Toei film and a 1977 TMS television series, another Hector Malot property about an abandoned child struggling to survive. The Toei film is a 60s throwback but the '77 series is pure Osamu Dezaki bringing his A-game to this tale of Remy, who gets sold into carnival slavery, more or less. 

You've read the book, you've seen the musical, and you’ve watched the movie, now enjoy the anime of Les Miserables! Toei's 1979 TV special eschews the big-eye "anime" visual cliche and delivers a more period accurate Jean Valjean struggling to do the right thing in mid 19th century France while Inspector Javert tracks him down. 

the various Treasure Islands
Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island has enjoyed many cinematic adaptations, and the world of anime is no exception. If you want the best, you need to hit the '78 TMS series directed by Dezaki, it's terrific and on YouTube with TMS subtitles. If you want the fun, see Toei's '71 Animal Treasure Island, a cheerful Miyazaki/Takahata/Otsuka romp. If you want the weird, why not visit the 1966 New Treasure Island, a Mushi Productions TV special directed by Gisaburo Sugii, colorized in the early 70s and released to the 16mm rental market by Fred "Gigantor" Ladd? Well, because apart from a partial VHS copy ripped and uploaded to YouTube, you probably can't see it anywhere, that's why. 

I wrote about the Yearling anime earlier and at the time I assumed it was one more WMT series. Well, I was wrong. This show's an MK Company production, and MK stands for Kaneko Mitsuru, an animator who worked on revolutionary French hot pants heroine La Seine No Hoshi, who walked away from the anime world in the 70s and went to USC film school, and who later returned to Japan determined to drag the anime industry kicking and screaming into the modern world via computer technology. He founded the first commercial CG studio in Japan and his Yearling cartoon was the first Japanese TV anime to be colored digitally. MK went on to work on Lensman, which makes sense. His Yearling anime was licensed by MGM/UA and pitched to American broadcasters as “The Yearling” but if it aired in any US markets I have not seen any evidence. The series, as "Fortunate Fawn," is on YouTube with what appears to be Turkish subtitles, and a few public domain DVDs of the show have turned up in the dollar stores. 

watch the show, read the book, buy the merchandise for 40 years

I got through 1500 words on co-productions last time and barely mentioned Rascal The Raccoon, can you believe it? This trash panda's 1977 Nippon Animation cartoon is hands down the king of licensed raccoon character-based marketing - forty years on and they're still cranking out Rascal stuff. Sterling North's 1963 book about a Wisconsin boy growing up during the First World War who rescues a baby raccoon who in turn helps him through a difficult adolescence seems to have struck a responsive note with Japan; the show was responsible for at least 1500 raccoons being imported into Japan as pets, and they're now found in 42 of Japan's 47 prefectures. Sure, there was a 1969 Disney Rascal movie starring Billy "Lost In Space" Mumy, but did it inspire raccoon importation or its own store in Tokyo Station? No. 

Marge’s Little Lulu was a success from her first appearance in the Saturday Evening Post, inspiring Paramount cartoons, licensing deals, and a host of imitators, but it was the smart, loopy Dell Little Lulu comics by Irving Tripp and John Stanley that made the character one of the icons of mid 1950s comic art. Lulu had already inspired a generation of new cartoonists by the time this 1976 Nippon Animation series delivered 26 episodes to Japanese TV, and subsequently to a ZIV International dub and a home video release. I like me some Japanese cartoons but in this case the Stanley/Tripp comics are superior, have been in print consistently for decades, and are well worth your time. 

Little House On The Prairie fans are likely waiting for the Pete Bagge Rose Wilder Lane bio coming soon, but what they’re also waiting for, even though they might not have known it existed, is some kind of acknowledgement from the Wilder estate that the ‘75 Nippon Animation Little House anime is a thing that exists. And it is! “Laura The Prairie Girl” ran for 26 whole episodes, covering the early parts of the Little House saga and giving Anime Laura fun times with Jack and the whole Little House family, including the mighty beard of Pa Ingalls. The show lines up neatly with the original text, including the family surviving their bout with malaria with the help of pioneering African-American Dr. Tann. Sadly the show totally whiffs the opportunity to let Laura enter adolescence challenged by what we can only assume would be the ojosama laugh of “prairie bitch” Nellie Oleson. If you are curious about this iteration of Little House, the whole thing is streaming on YouTube en Espanol. 

In 1968 Toei produced a “World of Hans Christian Anderson” movie, in 1971 Mushi Pro made a 26 episode TV series with the same fairy-tale premise, and in 1975 Toei released their film of what might be Anderson’s most enduring work, The Little Mermaid. In this version, now available from Discotek, her little porpoise chum uses starfish as ninja throwing stars to defeat undersea monsters. 

The 1992 Thumbelina TV series ran 26 episodes and was produced by TV Tokyo/Victor/Enoki Films, and survived to be edited into a 90 minute compilation feature released on home video in North America. 

the many faces of non-Disney Pinocchio
Pinocchio, the venerable Carlo Collodi folktale, has two anime iterations, a 1972 Tatsunoko TV series and a 1976 Nippon Animation series. The Tatsunoko series made it into a dubbed compilation film, look for it in your local thrift store! 

I’d been all about the 1980 Toei Dracula Sovereign Of The Damned and the 1981 Frankenstein, particularly the faithful way the Dracula special follows the Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan comics, and the absolute off-the-rails crazy and the expressive Toyoo Ashida designs on Frankenstein. But what I never thought I’d get to see was the 1981 Tatsunoko TV special 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. This oddity put Captain Nemo and his Nautilus into the 22nd century, gives him an evil empire to battle, and we see it all through the eyes of Ricky, the young Jacques Cousteau type who finds himself and his fellow explorers suddenly shanghaied into the Nautilus crew roster. This odd duck of a TV special – including a scuba-diving pet parrot – was dubbed into English by Harmony Gold and released somewhere – South Africa? The UK? - as “Undersea Encounter.” There’s a dub of it on YouTube with Russian expository narration on top of the English dialogue, which makes for a singular viewing experience. 

Like most nerds my age I had Bob Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” handed to me at age 12 or so, just the right age to enjoy the outer space military action while taking the questionable sociopolitical themes at face value. Paul Verhoeven’s film would ditch the mobile suits and frontload the militaristic authoritarianism to a comical degree. However, the 1988 Bandai Visual/Sunrise six-part OVA series would deliver, as nature intended, a Starship Troopers heavy on Mobile Infantry powered combat suit combat and utilizing exact scenes and dialogue from the novel. Yet the anime Starship Troopers remains uninspired, pedestrian, and frankly, kinda dull, which is some kind of accomplishment in itself, I guess. Perhaps Japan had worked on one too many powered fighting armor stories and all the fresh new takes were used up. 

Thanks to everyone who came to my panels at AnimeNEXT and if you're coming to Anime North next year there's a pretty good chance I'll be hauling this one out next May, so stay tuned.  s I said earlier, this field is wide open. After years of poking around looking for these things, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. Turn over a rock, look at the stacks of VHS in the thrift stores, do a casual internet search and you’ll likely come across still more Japanese cartoons based on Western literature. 

-Dave Merrill

so long, Captain Nemo

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