Thursday, August 31, 2023

Nobody Knows The Party Rules

You can hear it as you get off the elevator. Somewhere down the otherwise quiet hotel hallway is the muffled rumble and chatter of a crowd. Sometimes you can even smell it, the distinct odors of red wine, tonic water, off-brand tequila, lime wedges, and the occasional spilled beer. There’s a kooky flyer taped to the door, wedged open a crack with that hinged bar lock. Or maybe it’s closed and you have to knock and say “is this the place?” Either way you’re in, you’re in that milling, noisy, probably drunk crowd, it’s part of you and you’re part of it. What you can’t do is see it, because this is an anime con room party, and room parties are, as a rule, pretty dimly lit.

When anime conventions began, a lot of traditions were ported over from the culture of the SF and comic conventions that had been abusing unsuspecting hotels for decades. Nerd con standards like costume contests, vendor halls, panel discussions, badges, sometimes even entire staff departments were rebranded with new anime con colors. One such traditional if unofficial function was the room party. While at your local Chattacon, Boskone, NorWesCon or Ad Astra, you might have noticed flyers advertising various hotel room parties being thrown by various groups of fans promoting a Worldcon bid, a fanzine launch, or a new convention they were trying to get started across town. Maybe the local British SF club wanted to invite people over to watch Blake’s 7 or Adam Adamant, or the Star Trek club wanted to find out if their version of Romulan Ale was dilithium crystallized enough. Any excuse for a party, really.

I don’t want to come right out and say we just copy-pasted our room party culture wholesale from the nerd con room parties we attended as underage fans because they were reliable sources of cheap beer and weak rum & cokes, but we kinda did.


And thus was born the anime con room party, a mutant hybrid of frat bash, cocktail mixer, hospitality suite, and private movie screening. An event that, once launched, could careen off into any one of fifty different directions - transforming into a room full of drunks hollering at each other about cartoons, or  a full-on birthday party complete with cake, candles, and blindfolded party games. There might be a girl weeping quietly next to the sofa or there might be a girl cheerfully singing along to the boom box as she strips down to her underwear. Maybe a few consenting adults are consensually groping each other in the attached bedroom behind the door you thought you locked. Or maybe someone’s taken it upon themselves to “entertain” the room with a VHS tape of hilarious anime music videos, which they are showing on the VCR they brought, which they have wired up to the hotel room TV, which has turned a room full of people that used to be a party but is now merely a bunch of people watching something. Party disaster is always right around the corner.

Eventually, crews started setting up party dynasties around the country, and an anime con Saturday night might find you in a party crowd in Cincinnati or Chicago, in Atlanta or Austin, in Denver or Dallas, crammed like sardines into somebody’s hotel room or comfortably perched on a Presidential Suite sofa, socializing with guests, staff, vendors, fansubbers, artists, zine publishers, cosplayers or gate-crashers. And then, as quickly as it arose, the anime con party scene melted away, as organizers aged out of and were overwhelmed by the new, swelling anime-con demographic, which was not as interested in sequestering itself away from the crowds. The ephemeral nature of a party scene is no surprise; hosting a party is an art, not a science. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of constantly shifting variables, a lot of trial and error involving the annexation of suitable spaces, the acquisition of food & beverage, and the likelihood of anyone actually showing up.

 My own con room party-throwing experience came out of necessity, more or less; our local crowd of anime nerds was at our local Fantasy Fair and we wanted to screen some anime, and the convention proper didn’t have an anime room, didn’t have anime on the schedule, and generally didn’t want to be bothered with it. So we just imitated what we’d seen others do; we brought some junk food and Cokes, we filled a cooler with ice filled one bucket at a time from the ice machine in the hallway, and we spent a good forty minutes trying to unscrew the RF cable from inside its protective, anti-theft cover on the back of the TV. Soon we were showing “Star Dipwads” and “Dirty Pair Does Dishes” to an audience of friends and strangers crammed into our hotel room.

At some point these SF/comic cons saw we were jamming the halls with people trying to get into our impromptu, unsupervised events, and we were grudgingly allowed to program official anime video rooms. Eventually we started our own anime conventions. But we still threw parties; sometimes to promote a new fan parody dub, sometimes to promote our local anime club or local con, sometimes just… just because we’re in a space with a bunch of friends we might not have seen in a while, and the innate need of humans to socialize is a powerful force indeed..

The first step on the Party Path is finding that physical space. Sure, you can just host the thing in your own hotel room. Maybe your room-mates will be OK with this, but perhaps they won’t be thrilled with the idea of a bunch of strangers hanging out where they keep their clothes and all the stuff they’ve bought in the dealers room, strangers who will be there until the wee hours, spilling drinks and Doritos all over the place. So your best bet is to somehow get a suite, or maybe two adjoining rooms with a connecting door, so that your social gathering is in one space and your valuables are in the other.

Anime 54

Jan Scott-Frazier managed the “Anime 54” blowouts, which appeared over the course of four years at a dozen or so early 00’s conventions including Ohayocon, Anime Festival Orlando, Animefest, Onicon, Katsucon and Nekocon. Their plan was to convince the convention to give them the use of the green room, con suite or other function room, which couldn’t have been too difficult as Jan was frequently a guest at those conventions. A lot of the larger, more connected parties either managed to rent hotel suites the convention hadn’t already requisitioned, or talked their way into borrowing one for the night. Project A-Kon was home to the late 1990s “Da Bar” party crew, notable for a liquor bill in the five figures and an ultra-swank two-level suite. Anime Weekend Atlanta’s Dessloktoberfest was held yearly from 1998 until the mid 2010s in everything from top floor function rooms to suites in satellite hotels, while the jacket-and-tie martini-afternoon “Let’s Classy” commandeered con suites and green rooms for a few short years. Big Fire’s Midwestern anime con parties remain Anime Central hotel suite legends decades after the fact.

Who’s going to come to this thing? Is it a private invite-only affair, or is it open to all? Back in the day when anime con attendance was in the high hundreds or low thousands, you could throw a party and be pretty sure you wouldn’t get overcrowded. Once anime con attendance crept into the twenty thousands, the old days of simply posting flyers became a bad idea. This is why this is an art, not a science, you want to hit that sweet spot of a good crowd that’s lively but not “somebody call security” lively, crowded but not too crowded. You don’t want to run out of drinks in the first hour.


When Space Battleship Yamato fans Carol Hutchings, Mike Horne and Kathy Clarkson came from Boston to Atlanta and threw the first Star Blazers themed “Dessloktoberfest” party at the third AWA, the only admission qualification was that all attendees had to swear allegiance to Leader Desslok of Gamilon. This evolved into custom invites and laminated party badges, but entry generally wasn’t too difficult, denied to only the obviously underage or the obviously sketchy. Anime 54 was always invite-only to avoid overcrowding and noise. Eventually 54’s party invites were numbered to foil counterfeiters. Frazier says, “The main line of defense was the door and I made sure to always have good people on door. (...)We stole stanchions and red ropes from the lobby a couple times(.) “ My experience is that flashing a convention staff or guest badge will get you into pretty much every anime con room party, one of the few benefits of being an anime con lifer. 

Liven up that party with an autopsy

Which brings us to decor. Let’s jazz that boring old hotel room up a little! Switch out the light bulbs with colored party store lights. String up some patio lights or dollar store disco balls, grab your painter’s tape and temporarily hang some posters. Borrow a video projector and splash confusing imagery on the ceiling, Carl Horn style. Wire up your thrift-store stereo or MP3 boom box or blue-tooth speaker and jam out with your custom party mix. Think up a theme and let that dictate the decorations - anything that evokes fun and frivolity, whether it’s suggestive of a backyard tiki party or the hallucinogen-soaked gonzo Vegas of Hunter S. Thompson, the theme of an Animazement party that prominently featured a suitcase full of prop narcotics. And remember, either cover that hotel room TV with wax paper for an impromptu lightshow, or unplug it entirely. You’re at a convention for people whose main activity is watching TV, and if that TV’s showing something they’re going to watch it instead of chatting or singing or laughing or eating or drinking.


That’s right, people want eats and drinks at these social engagements. Could be this anime con room party is in your home town and you make a run to your local grocery store or Wal-Mart or Party City or wherever it is you get bags of ice and styrofoam coolers and 2-liters of soda and chips and snacks. Paper towels. Disposable plates. Solo cups. Maybe an electric fan to keep the room breezy. Some Hefty bags for after-party cleanup. On the other hand, this convention might be in a strange city where you lack a convenient vehicle and/or knowledge of the nearest shopping center, a situation sadly prevalent in the pre-wifi days of the early 00s, requiring you to  scout up a local guide to point you in the right direction. For extra excitement perhaps you and a confederate take your cooler (and your staff badges - this is an advanced level activity) onto a trip into the hotel’s kitchen and fill up with ice from their industrial ice maker, instead of relying on the dying hallway ice machines.  

And then there’s the question of alcohol. How much? And what kind? How elaborate do you want your mixology?  Frazier says “My party drink was the Bahama Mama. I didn’t pre-mix because those were always gross to me. We free poured everything. Occasionally had Zima if someone brought it but no beer. Beer is really smelly.“ Carl Horn limited his party bartending to one signature mixed drink, preferably one involving tonic water, which, fun fact, glows under UV light. Dessloktoberfest involved everything from German lagers to the boxed wine preferred by Star Blazers voice actress Amy Howard. I always like to bring something out of the ordinary to a gathering, and this might mean a six pack of Tsingtao or one of those two-liter Sapporo cans or vodka packaged in an artillery shell. I’ll admit a soft spot for the classic, old-fashioned bathtub full of beer, ingredients consisting of (1) bathtub, preferably clean, (2) assorted cans and bottles of beer and soft drinks, and of course (3) don’t forget the bottle opener! Mixed drinks are always a logistical challenge and it’s best to keep it simple, stupid - rum and Coke, Jack and Coke, gin and tonic, tequila and somebody else, I am not touching that stuff again.

This means one thing - you’re going to need a liquor store. Yes, here’s where the fun really begins, where the wide-eyed innocence of a festival devoted to what are largely cartoons for children gets smushed up against the sleazy, degenerate reality of the adult beverage industry. Liquor stores come in two types: the modern, shiny Beverage Expo, and the harsh, stuttering fluorescent lights of the old-school strip-mall package store, where decades of mysterious stains merge with the ghosts of last century’s cigarettes and the desperate sweat of the confirmed alcoholic who can barely keep his hands from shaking as he empties his pockets for a handle of vodka and a sixer of Busch. No matter the time of day, it’s always late at night in those liquor stores. Here’s a tip, if anyone in your crew is underage, leave them in the car! Don’t let them in the door or even on the sidewalk. Laws vary from state to state so you don’t want to delay your liquor run. Those stores might close super early, they might be in distant locations across the county line, they might even be disguised with red dots or the mysterious letters ABC, as in the Carolinas.

So when a hundred lives are shoved inside and nobody knows the party rules, who’s to blame when parties get out of hand? Usually alcohol. Sometimes somebody’s had a little too much and gravity becomes unstoppable as they slide down into that negative zone between the side of the hotel bed and the wall. Scott-Frazier remembers Anime 54’s doormen and bouncers became good at bouncing problem people before they became problems, with the exception of one drunk who got into the suite bedroom, took off his pants, and fell fast asleep on the bed. Party crowds and noise might earn a visit from con security or hotel security and you’d better do what they say, because they can and will eject you from the premises. AWA’s Dessloktoberfest could go ‘til the wee hours for two or three years without a warning and then the very next year see the hammer come down at 11pm. Frazier remembers 54 “... usually got one warning then went quiet, but there were times they shut us down. There were a number of times the cops showed up. About half the time we could bribe them and I had a bartender who was a first responder who knew how to talk with them. The worst was when people lined up outside the door even though I told them not to (...) Hotel tried to shut me down twice over that.”  Ed Hill recalls a Project A-Kon “Da Bar” bacchanal in the late 90s involving an unplanned yet wildly popular amateur striptease contest. “I was probably second out the door before the cops showed up…she did strip to Du Hast by Rammstein. There were actually two ‘contestants’. The second one didn’t go very far.” I myself was in Carl Horn’s less raucous room party on another floor and heard about the impromptu burlesque when a bunch of guys burst into the room to show us evidence on their flip camera phones, a harbinger of the digital-panopticon age that now surrounds us like horny A-Kon nerds around an undressing party girl.

Chinese New Year crashes Anime 54

Eventually the music winds down, the last guests say their goodnights, and that total stranger who’s been passed out on the couch for the past two hours comes to life and shambles away. Suddenly it’s two or three in the morning and you’re surveying a room full of empty cans, half-eaten snacks, melted ice, and a few unidentifiable stains. It’s time to start filling that garbage bag, to dump that cooler out into the sink, to start drinking water you should have been drinking all along, to take the first of the Advil you’ll be never far from tomorrow. This is the Minneapolis police, the party is over. Are the parties over throughout the anime con world?

Look at anime con growth in North America and you’ll see that sharp curve upwards as the things went from regional gatherings of a few hundred to five, ten, twenty, fifty, sometimes a hundred thousand unique individuals all jammed into one confused convention center. Throwing a room party in the midst of this crowd seems…well, it’s a bad idea. Anime cons have ditched other old-school SF convention staples like con suites and program books and judging by the “no parties” rules hotels are posting lately, it seems the anime con room party is also marching into oblivion. It’s not a surprise, really; the party crews of 1998-2008 have aged into semi-responsible middle aged nerds for whom a serious hangover lasts days, not hours, and who learned committing to serious room party action is itself serious. That party is your whole weekend; you can’t be distracted by paneling or running events or staff duties - which is why we’re at these conventions to begin with. Ever try moderating an anime con panel after a night of serious drinking? It’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds.

wild shore leave for the Yamato crew

Room parties have lost any grass-roots marketing power they may have had. Your club or convention doesn’t need to promote itself by entertaining fifty people in a hotel suite. The potential party-goers themselves are a new generation, one that drinks less and is less interested in making small talk in a dark room full of strangers. Anyway, they’re busy at one of the myriad 24-hour programming tracks and late-night official supervised activities that the modern anime con provides. Why sequester yourself in a room when you could hit the rave? After seeing the chaotic damage that unsupervised, disengaged, maybe inebriated anime fans can cause, many shows partnered with their host hotels to host adults-only cash-bar mixers in convention function spaces, giving attendees that private party, alcohol-fueled, meet & greet & make new friends opportunity without having to ride the elevator up to the tenth floor and enter a room full of potential weirdos.

Of course, people will still gather in their hotel rooms to shoot the breeze and listen to some tunes while knocking back a few brewskis. But full-fledged con room parties aren’t the public displays of drunken revelry they once were. Like every other aspect of anime fandom, the late night socializing has become organized, supervised, and commodified; part of a weekend package deal of entertainment that might be less wild and more focused, but perhaps less harmful as well. Once the reputation of being a “party con” spreads, the actual anime con itself becomes overwhelmed by stumbling fight-hungry dudes tripping over themselves while sniffing out their latest assault victims. Convention organizers suddenly have to deal with cops, liability issues, safety concerns, and all the other problems that seemed far, far away from anything they expected to have to deal with when they said “hey, let’s have a convention about them Japanese cartoons we like.”


Aim For The Ace-themed AWA event

The heyday of the anime con room party may have passed. And that’s OK. We can spend less time in liquor stores and more time at, you know, the convention we traveled hours to, that we booked time off work for, the convention about the thing we’re supposedly fans of, which is anime. Not worrying about cleaning deposits while we mop spilled margaritas off hotel upholstery… there aren’t many fans of that.

 thanks to Jan Scott-Frazier, Carol Hutchings, Kathy Clarkson, Carl Gustav Horn, Ed Hill, and the brave members of all the party planning committees throughout anime fandom!

-Dave Merrill


Thanks for reading Let's Anime! If you enjoyed it and want to show your appreciation for what we do here as part of the Mister Kitty Dot Net world, please consider joining our Patreon!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Anime North 2023

It's that time of year again when the flowers bloom, when the pollen drifts, when spring comes to Ontario and when Anime North comes to Toronto. Since 1997 this festival of all things Japanese animation-related has been a yearly highlight of the Canadian anime fan calendar, and as the nation's top non-profit fan event the convention provides a weekend of excitement for, let's say thirty thousand or so attendees. And as is my custom, I'll be behind the tables hosting a host of panels and events revolving around classic Japanese animation.



Friday evening in Plaza 1 in the Delta, we'll be taking a look at the life and career of recently departed manga legend Leiji Matsumoto, both as a retrospective of his many works in the comics field, the animation those works inspired, and the fans and fandom that grew from it, both in Japan and in the West.


Friday night at 10, Anime Hell returns to the TCC North Ballroom for another two hours of whimsical, poorly defined audio-visual nonsense culled from the streaming feeds and thrift-store VHS of a lifetime of hoarding. 

Saturday at noon, join a panel of convention veterans as they explain the scams and flim-flams of fandom, how bad actors, grifters, predators, and other creeps victimize the world of fan organizations and activities. 

At 2:30pm Saturday, join the Mister Kitty Dot Net team of David Merrill and Shaindle Minuk as they take you through the confusing, sometimes licensed, always culturally appropriative world of The Great Anime And Manga Swindle. 


Shotaro Ishinomori is one of the giants of manga and Saturday at 4, Mike Toole and Dave Merrill will examine this record-breaking, tremendously influential figure, from Android V to Mezzon Z.



Saturday from noon until 6, the Paris Room will once again be host to Classic Anime Afternoon, a daylong celebration of vintage and currently unlicensed in the West anime series and films. 



Saturday night erupts with a tag-team of nothing but trouble as Neil Nadelman delivers Totally Lame Anime followed by Mike Toole unwrapping some Bootleg Korean Anime. Don't miss it!



Sunday at 1 Dave will be taking you through the Japanese anime films of forty years ago. Everything from atom bombs to Arales, from Harmagedons to Final Yamatos to Fantastic Trips happened in 1983 and you will see it all. 


 And stick around Sunday afternoon as Mike Toole takes you on another trip through the world of Dubs Time Forgot, as disrespected voice work and forgotten audio tracks are resurrected to see the light of day once again. Can audio tracks see? I don't know. Let's find out. 


It's all happening at Anime North, May 26-28, 2023! See you soon! 


Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Mister Kitty Story


As many Let's Anime readers may be aware, when I'm not writing for this blog I'm usually working on something for the website Mister Kitty. My partner Shaindle Minuk and myself started Mister Kitty in 2006 or so as a website to publish our comics on the internets, which was the fashion at the time. 


Since then we've both released hundreds and hundreds of pages of our original comic stories in a variety of genres and media. We both hosted galleries of our artwork on the site. For a few years I put together a weekly audio feature called "Found Sound" where I'd highlight some particularly goofy singles or album tracks from my collection of offbeat vinyl. This has since been replaced by a semi-regular podcast feature, Mister Kitty's Lo-Fi Landfill. 

 But what wound up being the most popular feature has been Stupid Comics, a weekly deep dive into one of the thousands of  comic books that litter our place, a dive into a comic that fails on some level - inept artwork, poorly thought-out stories, shoddy printing, obvious swipes, all kinds of problems can befall the production of an example of the Ninth Art, and in seventeen years of making fun of these comics we've seen and made fun of our fair share of those failures. 

The reason I bring all this up is simple. For years our website was located at Mister Kitty Dot Org. That web address was burned into my brain through countless interviews, podcasts, and convention panels. Name the occasion and there I was, reminding everyone to visit Mister Kitty Dot Org. Well, not any more. It seems that our web hosting company fumbled the ball during an important moment of transition, and our dot org address was snatched out from under our very noses. In practical terms, this means that we're no longer at Mister Kitty Dot Org, and instead the entire website and all its content is now located at Mister Kitty Dot Net

I have but one request for you, dear readers. Please take a minute to visit and bookmark Mister Kitty Dot Net. Maybe give the site a visit on a regular basis (we usually post new Stupid Comics late Thursday night). If you happen to come across an old link to something we published at the dot org site, that link probably won't work. At least, it's not going to take you to anything we have anything to do with. 

I realize how frustrating this might be for long-time readers of our site to have to replace a well-known, almost reflexive address with a new, slightly different one, and I apologize for any stress or confusion this may cause. Please be assured we are going to continue with Stupid Comics every week; there's going to be a new Lo-Fi Landfill for you soon, and there will be some new comics from us down the road. Both Shain and myself have really enjoyed working on Mister Kitty,  and we're pleased and a little amazed that we've managed to entertain so many regular visitors for so long. If you could bear with us through this speed bump, we'll do our best to keep delivering the Mister Kitty to you.

 -Dave and Shain 

Thanks for reading Let's Anime! If you enjoyed it and want to show your appreciation for what we do here as part of the Mister Kitty Dot Net world, please consider joining our Patreon!

Friday, March 31, 2023

A Time Slip Of Forty Years: 1983 In Anime Film

Let's look at the numbers. In 1982 there were 21 animated movies released in Japanese cinemas with a total running time of 1881 minutes. The next year saw slightly fewer films-  only 19 - and a concomitant shrinkage of total length down to a mere sixteen hundred sixty-five minutes. You could marathon that in less than a day! But when you look at the actual films themselves forty years ago, a different story emerges, a story of Crushers, Fantastic Trips, long-distance murder professionals, magic islands, time slips, Final Yamatos, and horrific disasters both real and imaginary. 1983 was a year of Japanese animation pulling away from its terebi manga roots and finally becoming real, slightly overstuffed roadshow capital-c Cinema in brand new ways. Let's take a look at the anime films in the order in which they were released forty years back!

Urusei Yatsura: Only You planted its tiger-striped-booted feet firmly into February 1983 and said, this is what it's gonna look like for the next few years, anime is going to be an outer space carnival of pop music, cute girls, interstellar hijinks, and frustrated romance. Based on the popular Shonen Sunday manga by Rumiko Takahashi, Urusei Yatsura, or "Those Obnoxious Aliens" as we used to call it, ostensibly is the story of Lum the invader gal and her hapless boyfriend, the dopey, skirt-chasing Ataru. Quickly overwhelmed by its equally obnoxious cast and a creative team that included Mamoru Oshii and Akemi Takada, the series became an ensemble comedy that bent the laws of time, space, propriety and gender. Only You is the first of six feature films that together with with 194 episodes of the Urusei Yatsura TV series would go a long way towards defining the 80s anime style.


One month later would be the premiere of Crusher Joe, a film directed by Yoshikazu "Yas" Yasuhiko, produced by Studio Nue and Nippon Sunrise, their first non-TV compilation film. Crusher Joe is based on the SF novels by Haruka Takachiho, who would go on to create the similarly-motifed and possibly canonically connected Dirty Pair. The far-future galactic troubleshooters known as Crushers operate throughout the galaxy, and the number one team is known as Crusher Joe after its leader Joe. His teammates the pretty princess Alfin, the cyborg Talos, engineering genius Ricky, and the 'droid Drongo uncover a conspiracy that threatens the galaxy while dodging both the murder plots of the space-pirate guild and the red tape of the United Planets. Pulpy science-fiction adventure in the classic style, Crusher Joe would get two more OVA sequels and this film would be gifted a terrible English dub that features new songs from "Bullets." Fret not, the Blu-Ray is subtitled.

The short feature Dr Slump HoYoyo! The Race Around The World premiered March 13, 1983 and the movie is just what it says on the tin. Indeed, this film is a wacky race as Akira Toriyama's zany Arale and the rest of the goofy Penguin Village gang pop the clutch and tell the world to eat their respective dusts. It's part of Dr. Slump's only American video release!

March 12 saw the release of Harmagedon, the first anime feature by publisher-turned-film-producer Haruki Kadokawa. This expensive, overstuffed epic features music from prog rock legend Keith Emerson and character designs by future prog manga legend Katsuhiro Otomo. Harmagedon, or Genma Taisen if we're going by the kanji, is based on the 1960s manga drawn by Shotaro Ishinomori and written by Kasumasu Hirai, who wrote manga classic 8-Man, pulp novel/Sonny Chiba vehicle Wolf Guy and a lengthy series of Harmagedon sequel novels. Hirai's interest in syncretic New Age religions is no surprise considering Harmagedon's script, filled with the vast darkness of Entropy fought across time and space by psychic warriors empowered by universal love consciousnesses. Harmagedon was released on VHS in the US in the 1990s, but earlier in the 80s you may have seen the laserdisk videogame it inspired, Bega's Battle.

The Space Battleship Yamato faces its ultimate challenge in Uchuu Senkan Yamato Kanketsu-hen, Space Battleship Yamato the Final Chapter (or as the English language text in the promotional material likes to call it, simply Final Yamato) as the evil Denguils, outer space legions descended from Mesopotamians rescued from the Biblical flood of Noah by the actual Satan, send the water planet Aquarius to literally drown the planet Earth again. Only the Yamato - captained by a surprisingly alive Captain Okita - can save us all. This epic spectacle's extended version clocks in at 163 minutes, which includes scenes producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki added into a 70mm re-release nine months after its initial March 19 premiere. Perhaps this film's butt-demolishing length helped Yamato fans weather the full decade before they'd see another Yamato project (the ill-fated Yamato 2520).


Noel embarked on her Fantastic Trip on April 29 1983. This movie feels like a vanity project for producer and Noel's voice actor Iruka, a Japanese folk singer who since 1970 has released 26 LPs, three books, four childrens' books, 8 radio shows, and acted in a medical TV drama. Iruka is really Toshie Hosaka, and she got the Iruka nickname in high school when she saw a crowd of music students carrying their guitar cases and said "it looks like a school of dolphins (iruka in Japanese)." So this particular Fantastic Trip of Noel's is a loosely plotted string of vignettes that allow the film to express simple concepts about pollution or friendship while delivering various Iruka songs. Noel lives on an island in space with her friend Pup and a bunch of animal friends. One day after singing a song about wanting to be a country girl, she decides the sun's too hot and would like some ice cream. So Noel and Pup take off in her airplane to give the Sun some ice cream. They stop at Planet Gaudy where she convinces everyone to become nudists. 

Meet The Beatles (And Noel)

After giving the Sun ice cream, they sing a few songs with the Yellow Submarine-era Beatles on the bottom of the ocean. Then smog attacks, but they are rescued by the super whale Super Zoomer. The source of the smog is an urbanized industrial planet, and the immediate threat is stopped by Super Zoomer and then there's an extended sequence involving babies on tricycles and a song about pollution controls. The end. Noel is voiced by Iruka in the original and by Corinne Orr in the American version, which aired on cable TV and was released on home video to a confused and bewildered nation.

First he was portrayed by Ken Takakura. Then Sonny Chiba took on the role. But the definitive Golgo 13 may be the 1983 anime film directed by certified genius Osamu Dezaki. The first animation production starring Takao Saito's legendary assassin Golgo 13 was this eponymous TMS film, released May 28. Known in the West as "The Professional," Golgo 13 is jam packed with slow-motion murder, mayhem, early computer animation, and the "postcard memories" Dezaki became famous for, as Duke Togo weathers a series of increasingly bizarre attempts on his life, which, let's be honest, is itself a series of increasingly bizarre attempts to take the lives of others.


Jiron Amos saddles up his Walker Machine and rides out on the vengance trail in the July 9 release Xabungle Graffiti, a theatrical compilation of the Xabungle TV series from Nippon Sunrise that was released in a double bill with Sunrise's Dougram film. Will Jiron and the crew of the gigantic transforming land-battleship mecha Irongear defy both the traditions of their violent land and its mysterious ruling class? You'll say "yes" by the time the new MIO song starts. Available as part of Sentai's Xabungle Blu-Ray set, this Tomino series lacks the seriousness and the death toll of his other works.


On July 9, the compilation film of the Nippon Sunrise Fang Of The Sun Dougram TV series was distributed by Shochiku with the title "Document Dougram". Created by Votoms helmer Ryousuke Takahashi, the film is a condensed retelling of the struggle of guerrilla fighters battling to free the planet Deloyer from the oppressive Earth occupation forces, and is one of the few series we're discussing today that has yet to get any sort of English language release. Come on fellas, let's get it together here. Document Dougram was released along with the super deformed comedy short "Choro Q Dougram," a combination of Dougram sponsor Takara's popular deformed minature spring-powered car toy Choro Q with characters from Dougram.

Another not-available-in-America title, Maya Mineo's serio-comic gagfest manga Patalliro first appeared in Hana to Yume in 1978, switched to Bessatsu Hana to Yume in 1991 and is still going strong. Bratty boy-genius Patalliro is both king of Malynera and heir to a diamond fortune and lives to confuse and irritate everyone around him, including his dreamy bodyguard Bancoran, who attracts a variety of beautiful boy admirers. The Patalliro Toei anime series ran for 49 episodes while this film, Stardust Keikaku (Keikaku means "plan") was released on July 10 and clocks in a mere 48 minutes.

Unico In the Island Of Magic was a July 16 release. Osamu Tezuka's Unico was created for the Sanrio magazine Lyrica, a lost little unicorn propelled through worlds of magic and legend on the whims of the Wind Goddess. Here in Unico's second movie he finds himself on the Island of Magic as a succession of increasingly disturbing Madhouse-animated creations threaten him and his friends, and the enigmatic wizard Torby must decide whether to defy his master, or turn us all into lifeless dolls. Both Unico films received English dubs and home video releases, frightening entire generations of 80s kids on both sides of the Pacific.

Based on the semiautobiographical manga by Hiroshima survivor Keiji Nakazawa, Barefoot Gen / Hadashi no Gen, a July release, was directed by Mori Masaki and produced by animation powerhouse Madhouse. This film, the first of two Barefoot Gen movies, details the life of an ordinary Japanese family struggling to survive in a militarized total-war Japan and the aftermath of that war's cataclysmic conclusion. Barefoot Gen's manga was one of the first Japanese comics to be translated and published in America (by Leonard Rifas' Educomics) and the film received a 1992 American release with a subsequent dub and release by Streamline Pictures in 1995.

Prime Rose: A Time Slip Of 10000 Years was broadcast August 21 as part of Nippon TV's 24 hour "Love Saves The Earth" telethon. The demon Bazusu sends both Kujukuri City in Chiba and Dallas in Texas ten thousand years in the future and makes them battle for his amusement. Tanbara Gai of the Time Patrol fights to stop this fighting along with the barely-dressed Emiya Tachi/Prime Rose in this Tezuka Pro/Magic Bus production.

Wrapping up the year, September and December would see two Nine movies from Gisaburo Sugii and Group TAC, based on Mitsuru Adachi's popular baseball manga about Aohide High School's center fielder Katsuya and the team manager, the mysterious beauty Yuri Nakao.  Adachi would keep working that baseball angle in his next 80s series Touch, perhaps his biggest manga hit in a career that is woefully underrepresented in the West.

And that's what 1983 looked like if you spent your year in Japanese theaters watching cartoons. If you ask me to pick a favorite, well, that's a tough question. Urusei Yatsura Only You might not be as critically acclaimed as the next UY film Beautiful Dreamer, but I think Only You is a rock-solid 90 minutes that takes the Urusei Yatsura cast out of Tomobiki and into the kind of big-screen science-fiction nonsense that movies were made for.

I'm always going to have a soft spot for Harmagedon, as maligned as the film may sometimes be. It's a movie made up of some terrific, fantastically realized pieces of animated cinema, separated by long stretches of not much at all. Not to generalize, but Japanese film is, well, we might say sometimes it's deliberately paced. Discursive. Meandering. Tends to wander. That's Harmagedon in a nutshell, it's all over the map.


And as meandering as Harmagedon might be, at least it's forty minutes shorter than the long version of Final Yamato, a film that hopes you're as excited as Nishizaki is about This Being The Last Yamato Film Ever Swear To God. If you're on board with this, fine, and if you aren't, if everything isn't as epic and as majestic and as awe-inspiring as it possibly can be, well then you might think this movie's too long. And it probably is. But as the Japanese iteration of those bloated Cinemascope studio-destroying historical epics midcentury Hollywood was throwing its cash at - your Liz Taylor Cleopatras, your How The West Was Wons, your Fall Of The Roman Empires, your Lawrence Of Arabias, your Spartacuses - as one of those overbudgeted overture-preceded pray-for-intermission endurance contests, Final Yamato fits right in.

As a big fan of Saito's Golgo 13 manga it's interesting to see various G13 stories turn up in the script of the TMS Golgo 13 film, but at times the connecting threads of plot stitching them all together are overwhelmed by the sheer hallucinogenic power of Dezaki's visuals. Not that this is a bad thing, you understand. Similarly, Crusher Joe from Yas and Sunrise looks great and is filled with terrific science fiction action sequences, and those sequences pile on top of each other until the film's had what feels like one or two climaxes too many.

Pound for pound, frame for frame, perhaps 1983's most enduring animated film is Madhouse's Unico In The Island Of Magic, a movie that throws goggle-eyed witches in our faces, fills the screen with nothing but the blue of Torby's cloak, and forces Unico to flee, scared to death through an island made entirely of the petrified remains of Torby's victims. A film that feels as fresh today as it did on that hand-me-down in the kids' mid-1980s playroom, Island Of Magic holds up today against everything forty years has thrown at it, and that's not something a lot of movies - let alone people, even - can say.

-Dave Merrill

March 1983 issue of OUT

Thanks for reading Let's Anime! If you enjoyed it and want to show your appreciation for what we do here as part of the Mister Kitty Dot Net world, please consider joining our Patreon!