Saturday, April 26, 2008

the untold saga of Anime Hell flyers

For years I've been doing a free-form anime-themed clip show called "Anime Hell". It started out as hotel room parties at SF conventions in the late 80s, and as anime cons came into being, the event moved into function rooms and eventually 1000+ seat ballrooms with giant video screens, projectors, PAs, and all the technological accouterments that are really hard to operate when it's 10pm on a Saturday night and you've had a few. Today five or six separate groups of people do "Anime Hell" type events at anime conventions in two different countries.

The show itself has been described as "all about the corniest, strangest and otherwise anime/anime-related things out there," and that's not a bad description. I've shown educational films, anime music videos, fake commercials, clips from 60s 70s and 80s anime, scenes from 8-bit video games, homemade Indiana Jones films, parody subtitles, promotional beer cartoons, anti-drug PSAs, European TV singers, and dogs riding bicycles.

Part of the fun of the show is the promotional flyers; I started making flyers for the Anime Hell parties in the late 80s with clip art and markers. When I started doing all-night Anime Hells at Atlanta's Dragoncon, the flyers got more elaborate.

(flyer from Dragoncon 1996)

Eventually stronger graphic elements started to come to the fore, as I determined scientifically that teeny tiny text might not be the best thing to read when it's taped to the wall of a hotel elevator.

Anime Central's Hell, 1999

The "Hell" logo with the flames was taken from the early 70s Marvel war comic "War Is Hell". The other clip art elements came from damn near everywhere - Chick comics, old UFO magazines, Weekly World News, Archie comics, Dirty Pair "mooks", old encyclopedias, whatever would hold still long enough to photocopy. I stopped doing Anime Hell at Dragoncon in... I wanna say 1999, and concentrated on Anime Weekend Atlanta and Anime Central, but for some reason I didn't do flyers for the AWA shows. Anyways, everybody at the early AWAs knew what Anime Hell was.

(flyer from Anime Central 2001)

In the early '00s the capacity crowds and my laziness meant I wasn't doing any more flyers, which was OK since the months before two conventions were taken up with feverish preparations anyway.

When I moved to Canada in 2004 and started doing Anime Hell at Anime North, I knew I couldn't slack off any more. Canada had no idea what Anime Hell was. I needed to get back on the job!

This flyer is my first color flyer, and features a totally reverse-engineered "Canada" logo. For the next year I went back to black and white, but produced five different flyers, of which this is one:

At this point I was getting more into taking an image that already had ironic or kitsch value, and manipulating it in a very basic way. There are 10,000 people at Anime North and most of them are only going to be able to see this flyer for five seconds, max, so a lot of frippery details and confusing, conflicting images will only deflect my message. So simplification became my watchword. My AWA flyer for that year was even simpler:

For the next Anime North I went back to color, taking a cheesy movie poster and reworking it to my own advantage. It's still a little busy, in my opinion.

For AWA that October, I had been really stuck for ideas and was getting desperate, until I saw a one-sheet for EASY RIDER. What resulted is the simplest and the best Anime Hell flyer I think I've ever done.

Sailor Moon's head is a little off, but other than that, it's perfect; the quintessential mix of weird and powerful and kitsch. Besting that flyer is a tough challenge, and I don't know if I'll ever do it, but this year's Anime North flyer is a strong contender:

Anime Hell, Saturday May the 24th, 8pm, Doubletree International Hotel, International Ballrooms B and C, Toronto Ontario Canada. Brought to you by Anime North. See you there!

-Dave Merrill

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

a tragic waste of cel paint and acetate

(this is an exact transcription of a review that appeared in LET'S ANIME #4, fall 1993. While I regret the convoluted sentence structure and general snotty tone of the piece, I think it's useful not only as a snapshot of the popular trends in anime at the time, but as a look at what some of us thought about those popular trends.)


You know, I was willing to give the movie a chance. I'd seen the overpriced, senseless comics in the store, even tried to read a few, but I have this funny habit of preferring comics that actually have a coherent plotline. So anyway, when I heard that Streamline had dubbed the first Silent Mobius movie, I figured that it would be a good way to get a grip on this whole Silent Mobius thing and figure out just what the hell is going on. After all, it's a one-hour movie! Surely they'll make sure the thing is pretty coherent and understandable!

Boy, was I wrong.

Yes, the characters in the film were speaking English, but that's where the last tenuous link with understanding ends. I sat through the entire film and I still don't have the slightest idea what happened! Who are all these women psychic cops? Why are all these demons attacking Neo-Tokyo? Why aren't there ANY male characters in this film? What is the "Advanced Mystification Police"? Does that mean they're better than the "Regular Mystification Police", or what? How did they manage to rebuild Tokyo into a 5000 square mile city in thirty ears? How did they blow up a building that must have been several miles tall, and yet bystanders just say "Oh!" Shouldn't they be fleeing in terror as several tons of debris rain down upon them? How did all these female cops get magic powers anyway? What is the deal with the talking stick that the lead psychic-magic-cop-chick carries? Do they all have talking sticks? Why does the "Advanced Mystification Police" have an entire truck that folds out to be nothing more than an interrogation chair and some lights? Isn't it just easier to shine a flashlight in the sucker's face? Why does the main character refuse to admit that hideous demons are attacking her and her mom, even though it happens four times? And most importantly, why should we care?

Probably the most ostensible howler occurs when the head demon kidnaps the main character's mom (and ties her hanging upside down from a crane on a rooftop). So what Mom does is prick her finger and use blood to start drawing a magic diagram on the rooftop, OK? So the scene cuts away from her for a bit, and then goes back to her, and she's traced this huge diagram in what must have been hundreds of gallons of blood, all over the roof! The entire audience of the theater where I had the questionable pleasure of seeing this movie erupted into uncontrollable laughter at this scene. That, and the part where they invoke the name of "Helios, the Sun Goddess". Pardon me, but wasn't Helios a sun GOD? Isn't this taking anime feminism a bit too far?

OK, sure, I know that this film is aimed directly at model-building, dateless 15-year-olds who aren't overly concerned with plot or coherent storyline as long as it involves cool explosions and a few good shower scenes. And sure, the overall quality of the animation was pretty good.

But someone needs to tell these people that when you make a movie, these boring things like character development and plot ensure that the viewing audience gives a shit what happens to all your pretty girl cop characters. And giving a shit is precisely what we don't do.

Apparently the committee that wrote this mess (28 people, we counted) rightfully concluded that the last thing their target audience was interested in was coherence. This film's popularity among so-called anime "fans" in the States only serves to illustrate the true nature of both the film and its fans; i.e., clueless.

(at the time I can recall being frustrated at the current trends of Japanese animation - forgettable OVAs populated with ciphers that invariably ended with two characters shooting magic force beams at each other, papered over with a glossy sheen of high-tech nonsense. Not that anime hasn't always been home to glossy sheens of high-tech nonsense, but it helps to have some characterization and a little heart, maybe some old-fashioned burning with the fires of justice to wash it all down. That's why people still talk about Mazinger Z, Gatchaman and Yamato while most of the OVAs of the 90s are currently residing in the "can't believe we used to watch this" pile. )

-Dave Merrill

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

here comes prince planet

My “career” of writing about Japanese cartoons seems like an eternally repeating cycle of recurring motifs. Every ten years somebody pays me to write about Star Blazers, and no matter what medium I write in or what name it goes under, I eventually wind up writing about Prince Planet. The show impacted my brain at an early age, and you might say I’ve been under its influence ever since.

(splash page from a 1965 issue of SHONEN MAGAZINE)

The show’s original title, YUSEI SHONEN PAPI, means "Meteor (or Asteroid or Comet, take your pick) Boy Papi". It was produced by Television Corporation Of Japan (TCJ) who also produced Tetsujin-28-Go/Gigantor, Eight Man/Eighth Man, Yusei Kamen/Asteroid Mask, Kamui The Ninja, Kaitei Shonen Marine/Marine Boy, and Skyers 5. Papi’s original Japanese air dates were June 3, 1965- June 27, 1966, totalling 52 episodes. The show was based on the manga by Hideoki Inoue, which appeared in Shonen Magazine, the '60's weekly comic which also featured Tetsuwan Atomu/Astro Boy, Tetsujin 28-Go/Gigantor, Wonder Three/Amazing Three, Eight Man/Eighth Man, and Ashita No Joe/Joe Of Tomorrow. Papi was sponsored by Japanese candy manufacturer Glico, the name of which makes up a refrain at the end of the Japanese theme song.

Spurred by the success of Astro Boy, Gigantor, and Eighth Man, "Papi" was turned into “Prince Planet” and dubbed by Miami-based Copri International Films, an outfit partially staffed by gun-toting anti-Castro Cubans. The show was distributed to independent TV stations in America and elsewhere by American International Pictures, the same outfit responsible for releasing hundreds of cheap biker movies, most Gamera films, Alakazam The Great, Wild In The Streets, Roger Corman’s Poe epics, and Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot. AIP was later bought by Filmways, which was bought by Orion Pictures, which in turn was bought by MGM, part of which was aquired by Sony/Comcast. At this point nobody at MGM or Sony or whoever seems to be aware they even own Prince Planet. Two episodes of the series were released on the “Starman” DVDs from Something Weird, and several gray-market outfits are selling DVDs of the show online and through eBay, at conventions, etc.

I first saw Prince Planet at the age of 2, and for years afterwards memories of this show would impinge upon my consciousness, usually spurred by the imagery of Speed Racer or Kimba or whatever Japanese cartoon that happened to cross my vision. 15 years later I’d see the show again thanks to tape trading, and nowadays thanks to the internets and DVDs the show is out there for people who REALLY want to see it; though a legit DVD release would be nice.

So what’s this show about? Prince Planet is a young boy of about 12 from Radion, a far off planet. He was sent to Earth on a mission to study Earthlings and aid them in the fight against all kinds of evil. The organization behind this is called the Universal Peace Corps, a UN-like conclave of alien beings concerned with preserving galactic peace and justice. As the narrator explains frequently, Prince Planet's power comes from his pendant, which is capable of just about anything and must be constantly recharged by a power transmitter on Radion. The plot of any given episode usually calls for the guy operating the power transmitter to be away from his post, or sleeping, or knocked unconscious, or otherwise incapacitated when Prince Planet really needs him. Our hero changes to Prince Planet form by holding the medallion and shouting "Kazow" or sometimes "Kapow" or sometimes "Kazam" or “Wowee”. Sometimes the original Japanese dialog of Papi shouting "Piiiii-Papi!" can be heard in this scene.

When Prince Planet first came to Earth, he landed on the ranch owned by Diana Worthy and her father Mr. Worthy (sometimes called "Pops Worthy"). Prince Planet took the name of “Bobby” and made himself more or less an extended houseguest. This ranch is located somewhere near the city of New Metropol. Sometimes New Metropol is close enough to walk to, and sometimes New Metropol requires a plane trip. It all depends on what the city was in the original Japanese show, and how lazy the American writers were in coming up with names for cities. Diana is approximately Prince Planet's age, dresses like the girl on the Swiss Miss package, and has a knack for getting into all sorts of trouble that only Bobby can extricate her from.

Their big pal Dan Dynamo was an out-of-work studio wrestler who lost his job because he was just too strong. He was almost led into a life of crime, but Prince Planet rescued him and thenceforth Dan Dynamo aided Prince Planet in his mission to fight evil. He also is constantly hungry. He first appeared in episode #2.

Adji Baba is an Arabian wizard from the fake Middle Eastern nation of Abadon. He first appears in episode #4. Prince Planet and the gang frequently travel from place to place with his magic carpet. At one point a hatch is opened on the carpet, revealing machinery inside, so I'm not quite sure what kind of magic carpet this is. Adji has all sorts of wacky magic powers, and they usually backfire amusingly. He and Dynamo don't get along much. The exact spelling of his name is unknown, but he has a son and three grandkids back in Abadon, whom we see in episode #51.

One recurring foe is Warlock, an evil Martian magician with an evil laugh, three feet of spiky black hair, and an incredibly high-pitched voice. His plans may be to conquer the world, steal a secret formula, or destroy something important, but they always include killing Prince Planet and/or Adji Baba. Naturally, these plans always fail. He meets his end in episode #51. The main villain in Prince Planet, however, is Krag. Sometimes known as the Master Of Misery, Krag is the evil warlord of planet Kragmire. He's like the Godfather of outer space, sending legions of enemies, monsters, and heinous devices against Earth and Prince Planet. He has a huge square head and dresses like a deranged undertaker, with a gigantic stove-pipe hat and a black suit with a flower in the buttonhole. His favorite weapon is a pocket watch with hidden sawblades – he throws it - and when he wants to fly, sleek batwings pop out of his back. They just don’t make cartoon bad guys like Krag any more. In contrast to Warlock, Krag has a very deep voice. His end comes when Prince Planet blasts him out of existence in episode #52.

Having first been exposed to Prince Planet when I was all of two years old, I can personally testify to the strange appeal this clunky old show holds. The animation is passable at best, the dubbing is laughable, and the plots are grade-Z comic book science fiction, but Prince Planet has a wacky charm that more than surpasses its weak points. This mixture of SF, fantasy, monsters, aliens, spies, and gangsters, combined with bizarre, dada-esque scripts, villains reminiscent of the Batman TV show, and heroes that weren't afraid to blast, zap, or crush their way to justice, wound up congealing into a show that left an indelible mark on many young, impressionable minds.

A Japanese friend of mine reports that not only did she watch and enjoy Prince Planet during its original run in Japan, but she also had an entire Prince Planet costume, complete with medallion, that was obtained by collecting wrappers from Prince Planet chewing gum. The mind boggles. The Japanese DVD set of “Papi” episodes features two discs of extras that include TV ads for Glico “Usei Shonen Papi” candy, complete with all sorts of “Papi” themed prizes and giveaways. The show was a particular hit in Australia, where several other anime shows like Ken The Wolf Boy got English dubs and broadcast releases denied us here in the States, and where the later adoption of color TV meant B&W programming enjoyed a longer lifespan.

The show was one of the first animated series to have a definite beginning and a definite end; in the last episode Prince Planet hops into a spaceship and returns to Radion to make his report. Characters like Krag make their appearance halfway through the series. Other characters like Dan Dynamo and Adji Baba enter and exit the series. Since most syndicated TV shows at the time shunned continuity, Prince Planet’s continuing storyline is surprisingly progressive, in a “stuff that happened in earlier episodes is referenced in later episodes” kind of way, not in a “depicting minorities in non-stereotypical fashion” kind of way, there’s plenty of that.

Being black and white hurt Prince Planet’s chances at syndication in the 70s; stations wanted color shows. Programs like 8th Man, Amazing Three, and Gigantor joined Prince Planet on the monochromatic rubbish heap, to be revived only through video trading and the tables of bootleg VHS dealers at SF conventions.

Back in the late 1980s I started an organization devoted to 60s Japanese cartoons and deliberately set out to get in touch with fans of Prince Planet and other shows. Since then I’ve heard from hundreds and hundreds of fans who remember the show and have a real desire to see it again. Nostalgic tail-end boomers want to relive their youth, parents want to share the show with their children, and students of goofy kids cartoons always have room on their shelves for one more DVD box set of obscure 60s goodness. Other black and white cartoons like Astro Boy and Gigantor have enjoyed success in re-release; why not Prince Planet?

90s print version of Let's Anime, cover by Paul Young

For your future reference and general edification, allow me to present a Prince Planet episode guide, obtained from that invaluable research resource, the Internets. The titles are from the original Japanese series; the American version would mention episode titles in the “coming next episode” trailer at the end of each show, but there was never an official title card. I’ve added commentary where appropriate.

1. A Boy From Outer Space
2. Giant on the Matters (enter Dan Dynamo)
3. The Formidable Rival
4. The Arabian Magician (first Adji Baba)
5. The Flying Jelly Fish
6. Dinosaur Men
7. A Big Showdown
8. Robot Island (features a cameo by Gigantor!)
9. The Overgrown Lizard
10. Shaberia (aka “Shabiria The Vicious Vegetable”)
11. Fancy Machine
12. S.O.S. Global
13. Gold Picker
14. Attack of the Radioactive Ants (aka “Atomic Termites”)
15. The Great Space War
16. The Star in Memory
17. The Space Zoo
18. The Stolen Mount Fuji
19. Pirate Satan
20. Planet Of Terror
21. Robot
22. Good-Bye Saturnian
23. The Earth Zero Hour
24. The Ghost Space Ship
25. Battle on a Desert Island
26. Secret Under the Sea
27. The Rocket Pilot
28. Gaist the Devilfish
29. The Gift From Prince Planet
30. Gollen, the Formidable Foe
31. The Pollen Bomb
32. Operation Rico
33. Rico, the Great Detective
34. A Spy From the Necro
35. The Demon Scientist
36. The Young Spies
37. Pollo The Secret Agent
38. The Magic Glove (aka “Diana Will Believe Pretty Much Whatever Anybody Tells Her”)
39. The Robot Prince
40. Rico's Adventure
41. The Lion in the Desert
42. Crisis on the Earth
43. The Horror of a Snowman
44. Revenge in the Valley
45. The Comet Missile
46. The Mystery of a Mummy
47. The Mystery of Organ
48. Horror at 10:10 PM
49. The Birdman Racket (aka “The Birdman Bandits”)
50. Secret Path into the Earth (aka “Invaders From Alkali”)
51. Ajababa's Grandchildren
52. The Star at Home

I hope this list helps those of you out there with Prince Planet episodes to catalog your findings and expand your Prince Planety knowledge. Together we can keep the memories of Prince Planet alive until somebody somewhere down deep in somebody’s film archives gets the moxie together to throw this stuff on a DVD for us. With extras.

-Dave Merrill

(thanks to Meg Evans, Shaun Camp, and Tim Grumbly)

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 Org world, please consider joining our Patreon!