Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Space Promotional Captain Harlock

Let's say it's the mid 1970s and you are Toei Animation Company, a Premiere Animation Company Of The Orient. This means you look like Pero from Puss In Boots, mouth frozen in a perpetual grin. Anyway, you're producing an animated TV series based on the popular Leiji Matsumoto manga SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK, and you have a sneaking suspicion that it would do well in foreign markets. How best to promote this series? Well, there are many ways. But one way is to print up thousands and thousands of English-language booklets about Captain Harlock!

This A4-sized booklet sported a glossy color cover, black and white interiors, and lots of amusingly translated information about Captain Harlock and his crew. There were so many left over after Toei had made the rounds of TV industry gatherings that an enormous load of the things was dumped into the American market in the early 1980s. I found my copy in a comic shop in Philadelphia in 1982, but you could pick them up at your local Star Trek convention or hometown comic book store for what seemed to me a pittance - after all, this is Captain Harlock, in English!!

And an interesting sort of English it is, what with Harlock being in command of the "M/S ALKADIA" and all. The basic plot of the classic 1978 Harlock TV series is here - a depressed, listless Earth menaced by the Mazone plant-women from Andromeda who have come to take back the planet that was once theirs, with only gothy space pirate Harlock and his 40 crewmembers standing in the way of the Mazone fleet. Most of the illustrations are classy Matsumoto works from a period when he was at the top of his game, accompanied by helpful text.

Daiba in particular is wearing science-fiction fashion that will never go out of style - goggles, light-machine-gun style laser rifle, those giant knobs on the heels of his space boots. As far as I'm concerned, every day I can't dress like this is a day that is wasted. Please note this illustration is from 1976, which means that it's another year before Star Wars brings "space opera" back to the forefront of popular culture.

For years afterwards Kei Yuki could never appear on our television screens without a ritualistic intoning of the phrase "She helps Harlock biologically." Also we meet Doctor Zero, one of the archtypical Matsumoto doctors who drinks a lot but is a super excellent medical doctor. One wonders if Leiji had a traumatic experience with his pediatrician. I believe I will be getting my yearly checkup somewhere else, Doctor Zero. 

And rounding out our look at the cast is the always glam Queen Lafresia of the Mazone, looking extra-funky in outer-space hip-huggers. Whether you're leading an intergalactic invasion fleet or hitting the dance floor at Studio 54, you'll always be in style when Matsumoto's your designer! Matsumoto - because giant bell bottoms never go out of style.

The book also features some Studio Nue illustrations of various space vehicles seen in the show, including the Arcadia, your standard Mazone space-carrier, and what somebody who just saw Star Wars decided to call a "Z-Wing."

Seriously though, one of the most interesting things about this book devoted to selling a Captain Harlock TV series is that it really doesn't have a lot to do with the Captain Harlock TV series. Most of the cast is missing - where's General Kiruta? Where's Mimay, Harlock's alien girlfriend who has no mouth and yet must drink? Where's Tochiro Oyama and Emeraldas, even though they only show up in flashbacks? And where's the linch-pin of the entire series, the little girl who bravely faces the trials of being orphaned and then being kidnapped to another star system, the daughter of Tochiro and Emeraldas - Maya? She's nowhere to be seen. In fact, one might posit that this book was put together before the TV series even went into production, which shows Toei's determination to break into worldwide markets - a gamble that succeeded, judging by the subsequent worldwide popularity of many of their television series like Candy Candy, Grandizer, Gakeen, and later, something called Dragonball or something.

The episode guide (such as it is) bears no resemblance to what got broadcast on the TV. There are points of reference - the pyramid at the bottom of the Bermuda Triangle wound up in episode 13 and became the basis for the Toei "Manga Matsuri" short film "Secret Of The Arcadia" - but slinky Mazone spy Shizuka Namino does not appear in episode 3, and she is definitely not found breathing "carbiniferous air" in a "dome that comes rushing down to Earth." This book's episode guide seems to be following the story of the Captain Harlock manga that was running in Akita Shoten's Play Comic at the time ('77-'79). Which makes it really interesting for obsessed fanboys such as myself, but a useful guide to the TV show it is not.

However, it must have done some kind of good, as Toei's Space Pirate Captain Harlock was a worldwide hit in Asia, Europe, South America, Francophone Canada... everywhere but the United States, in fact. In Japan the series would be released on VHS, Laserdisc, and DVD, and other nations would see their own home video releases in their native languages. 

Japanese Captain Harlock VHS box art

It would be almost a decade after this book's release before Captain Harlock would wind up on American television, shoehorned in with Queen Millennia for a season of confusing afternoon confusion courtesy Harmony Gold, unhelpfully titled "Captain Harlock And The Queen Of 1000 Years.

In the meantime, American fans had to make do with a badly dubbed Z.I.V. home video release, a even more poorly produced Malibu Graphics re-release of the Z.I.V. video... and this book. Of course here in the modern world, Space Pirate Captain Harlock is available on DVD subtitled in English by Discotek Media, and is currently being streamed on several digital media platforms.

one of two FHE releases of the ZIV dub of Captain Harlock

Oh yeah. Almost forgot.  Toei ALSO did a book like this for Galaxy Express 999.

-Dave Merrill

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Monday, November 17, 2008

anime clubs - our glorious unwashed heritage

Dateline - the middle of the 1980s! All over America groups of like-minded young people from all walks of life are gripped by one obsession - running anime clubs! We were utterly convinced, for some reason that now escapes us, that once a month a library meeting room or apartment complex community center or campus media area MUST BE filled with people watching big-eyed Japanese cartoons. Traded through the mail, bought from bootleggers, badly dubbed or fan-subtitled on the sly in some PBS station, but mostly in raw Japanese - it didn't matter. Brains overheating, we strained our intellects trying to figure out who was doing what to whom and why, but years would pass before decent translations revealed that most of the time our conjured-up plots were more satisfying than the original versions.

(flyer for C/FO Atlanta circa 1987)

However, events on the 20-inch TV screen were frequently overpowered by what was happening in the audience. You see kids, fandom as we know it today- a glossy wonderland filled with sexy cosplay gals, fueled by media empires shoveling material down as many gullets as possible, and linked together in an instantaneous high speed multimedia data "internets"- did not exist. Oh no sir. In the old days "fandom" was a leper colony of dweebs, misfits, rejects, and failures; people who had formed a deep and unhealthy relationship with fantasy and/or science fiction somewhere during their third or fourth beating courtesy that jerk in the 6th grade. Fans in the 80s were seeking shelter from the storm, looking for secret redoubts where they could commiserate with fellow rejects, dream of a better world, and argue about Kirk VS Picard.

Anime fandom was doubly cursed; being devoted to children's cartoons, it was looked down upon by Trekkies; and being devoted to JAPANESE children's cartoons, it was rejected by every red-blooded American fan who felt Walt Disney and Warner Brothers were the be-all and end-all of ink and paint. So the point of all this is, your typical anime club meeting was full of the rejects that the rejects had rejected. For some of us, being wise-ass teens who cared not a whit what a lot of beardo failures thought, being rejected by the Space Command Klingon Middle Earth Glee Club was a proud badge of honor. For others, anime fandom was just another monthly meeting of the Secret Chosen, and they sat through Be Forever Yamato just as they sat through "Amok Time" at the Trek club meetings or "Caves Of Androzani" at the Dr. Who club meeting. Hey, as long as those club dues got paid!

(Anime-X flyer circa 1991)

The problem was this. Anime clubs soon learned what SF clubs had known for years - that in addition to the fandom stuff, they also had to play combination Ward Supervisor / Mommy and Daddy for a parade of flattened-affect borderline mental cases for whom the rules of polite society were merely hypothetical. Legions of middle-aged creeps who did not bathe or launder their clothes, who did not have indoor voices, whose talents for inappropriate behavior were legendary, who could barely show up for their minimum-wage jobs and yet who never failed to miss an anime club meeting. As anime gained in popularity, the middle-aged examples began to be pushed out by their teenage and young-adult counterparts, who shared the same aversions to soap, water, and society's rules, but whose talismans weren't back issues of Starlog, but instead backpacks loaded with videogame systems.

(cartoon from C/FO Atlanta newsletter by J.B.)

I'd once thought that such people were unique to MY city's fandom, but I've since found that they exist everywhere. The following are true stories collected from anime club veterans from around the country. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the guilty.

("D.M.", former club officer) At (NAME OF CLUB REDACTED), we had the guy who broke the glass insert window in the door by leaning against it with his gigantic overstuffed Pikachu backpack. Because when you come to an anime club you have to bring your every worldly posession in your backpack, including your heavy 1990s era video game systems.

We had a video tape library. One guy came to a meeting, joined the club, signed in, learned he would not be first in line to borrow tapes, asked for his money back, and left.

There were folding tables in the hallway of the center where the meetings were held. Somebody stood on a table in the hallway. Broke it right in half. We had to pay for that one.

One of our members was driven to the meeting by his mom, who would bring him a home-cooked lunch...during the meeting. If the chairs in the room were not of sufficent quality for her baby boy, she'd go looking for better chairs. If she steals them from the staff lounge, so much the better!

The smell in the room, of course, was terrible. Some people simply do not bathe or wash their clothes on a regular basis. We'd see new potential members arrive, walk in the door and take in the legions of black-clad video gamers hunched in the back delivering death blows to each other, and of course the amazing smell. They would then turn right around and leave.

Eventually the meeting turned into 30 people in the back of the room watching 3 people play video games, 12 people hanging out in the hallway chatting, and 4 people actually watching anime. I severed my connection to the club when the librarian telephoned me AT WORK to complain about the club's behavior at the previous meeting - rather, their behavior AFTER THE MEETING WAS OVER and they didn't have anything better to do but hang out in the parking lot.

("D.S.", former club officer) Truth to tell, the (NAME OF CLUB REDACTED) anime club has been lucky over the years. The worst example of classic foul-smelling fandom we got was in the very first year, a fellow we dubbed "Akira Hat Guy," and after a couple months of being rebuffed every time he asked people to hook him up with bootleg Dragon Ball Z subs, he went away and never came back.

(editor's note from C/FO Atlanta newsletter circa 1987)

Most of the other whackos have been more funny than genuinely aggravating. For instance, P. used an image of Patty Hearst in the club's advertisement in the (NAME OF CONVENTION REDACTED) program book. This inspired one member to complain, saying that this sort of iconography stood in opposition to "everything America stands for."

A subsequent recruitment flyer featured Patty Hearst, Fidel Castro, and Huey P. Newton, tagged with the line "Everything America Stands For."

The kibitzers are a perennial problem, but for us they've never been TOO hard to deal with. This last semester, when the kids were hooting and making porno sound effects during Victorian Romance Emma, we just explained that no, that's not acceptable behavior in a group environment, and they seemed to get the message.

Except for one gal, who said that there was no point in watching cartoons in a communal setting if she COULDN'T keep up a running commentary -- if she wanted to watch something quietly, she'd just do that on her own. To which my reaction was, hey, why don't you go do just that.

("D.3.", former club officer and convention director) Examples: the Too-Old-To-Be-Hanging-Out-With-This-Many-Kids Guy, the "I have what you want, and I won't let you forget it" Guy, the "I am an emotional Black Hole and will suck your generosity dry" guy, the "I compensate for my social awkwardness by memorizing every detail of my favorite shows and reciting them whether it's germane to the current situation or not" guy, the "I compensate for my social awkwardness by professing a deep physical attraction to a fictional character, loudly and frequently" person...

("G.S.", former club officer and convention staffer) Don't forget about "wanna read my self-insertion fanfic guy."

("R.M.", anime retailer, former con staff and club officer) We call him "The Creepy Downloader" because he looks like he's been smoking 3 packs a day for all of his 40-50 years (no idea of his real age, but he mentions an grown-up daughter and an ex-wife)and he downloads everything. The only time he buys stuff is when it's on clearance at Best Buy and then he uses his employee discount. He's only bought 2 things from me in the almost 4 years I've been open (both Newtype USAs for the DVD), despite the amount of time he's spent in the store talking my ear off. He is known to provide either a running commentary or bragging about his collection during the meetings.

Previous offenders: A boy of immense size and girth that we refer to as "Gundam Boy". Originally "Star Trek Boy" for showing up with a TNG communicator pin, TOS insignia belt buckle and Klingon logo watch. Known for completely inappropriate comments, especially toward anything with a vagina. He's on the watch list of every convention in town and automatically has his badge punched by security at NDK so they only need one time to pitch him out. Another guy managed to drive some of the older club members out because he would smoke clove cigarettes outside and tended to blow it onto people's faces. Not good for some of those club members who got headaches just by being in the same neighborhood as a charcoal grill.

Then there was the Boopster, who also hit on anything female; before, during, and after his marriage. He started up clubs in every town he moved to for the sole purpose of getting freebies from the anime companies. He would then turn around and try and sell the freebies at meetings, telling one of my female friends "I love making money off these stupid fanboys", like it would impress her. He also demanded (and eventually got, just to shut him up) a free badge one year from (NAME OF CONVENTION REDACTED) because during the Dead Dog (party), someone joked that Boop should be the Con Bartender, which he took seriously. So he shows up at the staff room saying "I'm the Con Bartender. Where's my badge?"

("D.M.") One club meeting the TV and the VCR and the tapes were all stuck inside (NAME OF FAN REDACTED)'s car, which had been locked with the keys inside. So as we stood around waiting for the locksmith, (NAME OF FAN REDACTED) offered a temporary diversion. Since (NAME OF FAN REDACTED) was infamous for forcing his unsolicited adult-themed Inspector Gadget fan artwork on unsuspecting victims, we all were relieved when his suggestion turned out to be a dramatic reading of the first-ever fan fiction devoted to the then-new STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION series. However, our relief did not prevent us from leaving the room at an amazing speed.

("S.M.") Oy. I've never had a problem with (NAME OF FAN REDACTED) but I know all about the Captain Linger Brigade from my time behind artists alley tables-- you always know the people who won't buy anything, because they're the ones who stand there for half an hour telling you their fucking life story. Because that's why I sit behind that table full of books and merchandise; so I can hear some sad bastard's autobiography.

("H.S.B.", former con staff) Let's see, we had one guy who made his own anime shirts & hats using bottled paints, glitter, & iron-ons. He also would make crappy pasted together flyers for (NAME OF CON REDACTED) without asking anyone in charge of the con if he could. I think this was the guy we dubbed "Master of the Folding Cane."

("Z.C.")Here we've got a balding guy who looks to be about 40 or so. I don't know his name, but he has several distinguishing characteristics:

- May or may not still live with parents
- Suspicion of failure to bathe
- Appears to be slightly mentally challenged
- Dislikes heavy violence (to the point of shouting THAT'S VIOLENT!!! loudly whenever he sees anything over his "threshold")
- (and the punchline!) but collects a whole lot of really disturbing rape-o-rama hentai.
I honestly don't know whether I should feel sorry for him, or to stay far, far away from him.

(the following video is a compilation of camcorder video recorded at Denver-area anime club meetings over the course of several years. If you want to know what anime club meetings were like in the 1980s, this video has it all. Bad hair, two TVs in parallel, and that same exact blackboard that was in the back of every single room every anime club ever had a meeting in. It's all here, people. Provided courtesy of Gimme Anime, your home for anime merchandise!!

("G.S.") You've made me recall our club's last few breaths...our club president was in place for almost the entire run of the club, so in our eyes, even after he stepped away, those of us left still treated it with the respect that it was still his. When it came to the end when the fans were just too much and we hoped to find some like ourselves who would respect it and take over we came up empty. For months I wrote in the newsletter how we were looking for people to step up and start helping out and so on. I was always met with silence.

We talked to the old prez, and told him why we were going to retire the club, and he agreed. I then went to the one guy we could count on, who was running the college club on opposing weeks and was reliable to show up, and told him what was up. He agreed to do the last few meetings for us. We also asked that he not revive our club, at least not under that name, as we believed it belonged to the guy who started it, and wanted to retire the name with its legacy intact.

So our final newsletter was published a few meetings before the end, we even had all the programs timed out that all our series would end on the same night. We compiled those last few meetings onto a tape per meeting and passed them to the aforementioned reliable guy.

Let's just say my final editorial was less than chipper, and announced the end of the club and why. We were mobbed that night with people who were upset that we'd just end the club, and they all wanted to know what they needed to do to help out....to which we really didn't have much to say as well, this club is retired, where have you all been the last few months when we asked for new blood?

Why, they were sitting in the stands watching the shows they expected us to keep bringing them without any contribution.

And this scene was replayed across the country. The availability of anime in Blockbuster and Best Buy and Wal-Mart and damn near everywhere else, combined with the sense of community engendered by the keyboard-pounding march of Wired Nation, meant that the very concept of getting together once a month to watch Japanese cartoons became an anachronism at best. When forced to deal with the constant antics of the Loser Battalion, club organizers found themselves taking a good hard look at why they were wasting their weekends showing cartoons they didn't make to people they didn't like. Most anime club officers moved on to staff anime conventions, which compress a whole year's worth of anime watching, tape trading, foul odor huffing, and window breaking into three days. This saves time, if not sanity. And who knows? The tide may again turn and anime may again become a hidden pleasure available only to those 'in the know', and perhaps we'll be back to meeting in undisclosed locations to enjoy our favorite cartoons. However, if there is a next time, we'll be a bit more... selective in our membership.

(C/FO Atlanta newsletter fan art by M.M.)

My thanks to all who participated in this project. May this facilitate the healing you so deeply desire.

-Dave Merrill

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Saturday, November 8, 2008


It's 1976 and America - gripped by Bicentennial fever and torn between folksy peanut farmer Jimmy Carter and clumsy Washington insider Gerald Ford - is about to be transformed forever by a transforming giant robot! Or would have been, had anybody noticed.

BRAVE RAIDEEN, the pioneering Sunrise/Tohokushinsha super robot cartoon with the top-notch anime industry pedigree (Yoshiyuki Tomino, Tadao Nagahama, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko) that brought the phrase "Fade In!" to national prominence and alerted us all to the threat of satanic Fossil Beasts, not only was the first transforming super robot anime TV hero, but also was the first transforming super robot anime TV hero to make onto American broadcast television. Can we get more trivial?

Raideen with KIKU-TV subtitles

Summer of 1976 saw Japanese-language UHF television stations across America - New York, Chicago, California, Hawaii - become super robot battlegrounds as a subtitled version of BRAVE RAIDEEN burst over the airwaves. Joined by shows like CYBORG 009, CAPTAIN HARLOCK, and, um, GETTAIGER THE COMBO-CAR, these anime series would become key figures in the embryonic American anime fandom of the day. Part of BRAVE RAIDEEN's legacy were two children's books distributed by Pentacon, a Hawaii-based Japanese import outfit.

These children's books - printed in glossy full color on heavy paperboard stock - were merely English versions of similar Japanese editions (printed in Japan probably on the same presses busy cranking out indestructible children's books based on Daimos, Candy Candy, Galaxy Express, et cetera).

But even though transmission dates "fade-into" the past, the legend of Raideen continues to inspire. What's the story? Akira Hibiki, Seaside High School soccer team captain, one day listens to the voices in his head who tell him that he's actually descended from the Mu Empire civilization. Only he can psychically control Raideen, which is their ancient giant super robot hidden inside a mountain. And he's got to do it right now because the Demon Empire (who actually worship the actual Satan), led by blonde pretty-boy Prince Sharkin, is about to attack the Earth with their legions of flying monster Dorohome and evil Fossil Beasts!

Luckily for Earth, Akira's girlfriend Mari is the daughter of a prominent scientist- the best friend of Akira's absent father - who has built a gigantic scientific complex just offshore in order to use super-science and the lost technology of Mu to battle the Demon Empire. This science center is amusingly housed inside a big clam shell. Assembling a team of science fighters called "Cope Rundar" (tough guy, bespectacled smart kid, former motorcycle gang deb Asuka Rei), together with Akira and Raideen they defend the peace of Earth!

As a period piece BRAVE RAIDEEN is jam packed with 70s signifiers like giant lapels, spoon-bending Uri Geller ESP, outlandish animal-themed super vehicles, and Akira's fringed jacket. But the super robot drama of RAIDEEN is a notch or two up from the monster-of-the-week stuff coming from rival Toei- the Nagahama - Tomino combination means pathos and tragedy lurk around every corner for our heroes. The local populace comes to regret being the battleground for every Raideen/Fossil Beast battle, Akira begins to wonder if he's being taken over by Raideen, and Mari, whose panties are shown with alarming frequency, is jealous of Asuka Rei and every other female who dares to appear in the show. Combined with a stirring marching band theme and jazz-rock songs for use encouraging Raideen to fight and/or to indicate when it's time for Raideen to transform into the God-Bird and slam his pointy beak straight through the heart of yet another Fossil Beast, BRAVE RAIDEEN is nothing but entertaining.

Two lackluster remakes and about a hundred thousand different Raideen toys are evidence that inside every anime fan lurks the fierce desire to hop onto their motorcycle, take a sweet jump off a ramp, hurl yourself into the air while hollering "FADE IN!" and combine with a sentient, millennia-old super robot to defend Earth. Who says the 70s have to be over? Not me!

Well, except for the giant lapels, those can be over. RAIDEEN! USE THE "GOD GO-GUN"!!!

-Dave Merrill

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