Wednesday, February 25, 2009

the little prince and the new power revolution

It's time once again for another exciting installment of our popular high-tech feature ANIME ON CED! That's right, Capacitance Electronic Disc AKA RCA Selectavision, possibly the most useless video format ever created! Was it a temporary home for Japanese anime home video releases in North America? Yes it was, and it's our mission to seek out and document all examples of... ANIME ON CED.

The best part about buying CED discs is that invariably you find enormous piles of them in thrift stores and antique malls, and once you start thumbing through them, somebody will always come up to you and (1) ask you if you know what they are, (2) inform you that they are laser discs, and (3) ask you if you have a player for them.

All these things happened when I came across today's offering, THE LITTLE PRINCE. Based on the 1943 children's book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, this tale of the boy who lives on the asteroid B612 was very freely adapted by the Japanese anime studio Knack into a 39 episode series that aired in 1978 and '79.

The original novel is a popular and influential work that's influenced readers around the world with its charming, dreamlike qualities. The anime series, not so much; our little Prince spends each episode hitching comets down to Earth so that he can express amazement at all the wonderful things and help people with their problems. Broadcast on Nickelodeon in the 80s, the American version's Little Prince was voiced by Katie Leigh, who would later go on to do voice work for "Dungeons & Dragons" and "Totally Spies".

It's tough writing about this show because it's really dull. It doesn't have the crazed thievery of other Knack series like Groizer X or Astroganger, and it lacks the total sub-standard lousy of Ninja The Wonder Boy. My Nickelodeon time was spent watching "You Can't Do That On Television" and "Tomorrow People", so I have no fond memories to fall back on. You can see Knack's team trying to emulate the Nippon Animation Company's World Masterpiece Theater Miyazaki-Takahata style of vaguely Europeanish characters - and it gives Little Prince a class not normally found in Knack productions -but "Heidi" this ain't. On the other hand, the animation style is downright sophisticated for Knack, probably due to series director Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. The series pairs nicely with Nickelodeon's other Euro-style anime offerings Belle & Sebastian and Mysterious Cities Of Gold. 

The two episodes on this CED feature the Little Prince helping a mountain-climbing kid climb the Andes only to be rescued by a surrealistic balloon decorated with a giant eye, and then he visits London where he aids a chimney sweep in his star-crossed romance with a nanny - wait, I mean, with a ballet dancer. Many life lessons are learned.

This disc actually does NOT feature the scene illustrated on the back cover, which seems to be from a "very special" episode of The Little Prince, one endorsed by NAMBLA.

Unlike so many other shows, The Little Prince has been released on DVD, so you're in luck. The bargain retailer East/West also released at least two Little Prince DVDs, one of which coincidentally contains the same exact two episodes that are on CED. I guess somebody at East/West knows what Selectavision discs are, and has a player.

If you have fond memories of watching the show on Nickelodeon, then by all means I would seek this show out in whatever format currently is in vogue. If, on the other hand, your psyche was not imprinted at an early age with the story of the little asteroid guy who loves a rose and tends volcanoes, this one might make for some tough watching.

-Dave Merrill

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The Japanese robot explosion of the 1980s may only properly be appreciated by the shock waves it generated on the other side of the world. The swelling pressure of thousands of suppliers creating millions of plastic toys, mounting to alarming strength, could only be relieved by using the children of America as a safety valve- children who hungered for toys from these shows and yet DID NOT EVEN KNOW THEY EXISTED. Is this evidence of the fantastically creative work of Japan's anime designers, or were they tapping into a collective unconscious of juvenile desire that knows no nationality? DO STRANGE FORCES FROM BEYOND THE STARS CONTROL OUR DESTINIES?

Well, I don't know. What I DO know, though, is that years of sifting through trays of toys at garage sales and flea markets have yielded a bounty of Japanese robot plastic that neither knows nor cares of its origins or ultimate destinations. Where did these toys come from? Carnival prizes? Party favors ordered through the mail from the Oriental Trading Company? Bubblegum machine prizes from the local Zayre's or Treasure Island or K-Mart? Let me tell you, when you see a Kroger bubblegum machine advertising GOD MARS robots in a decaying strip mall in College Park Georgia, it will turn your entire worldview upside down.

But enough of that. Allow me to show you photographic evidence of the startling penetration these "orphan" Japanese toy robots had made into American society - circa, let's say 1985.

MAZINGER Z shows off his metal muscles in this tiny super-deformed style inch-high rubber figurine hastily spraypainted a neon green. Yes, the Jet Scrambler is majestically attached to his tiny green back.

Meanwhile a pink Real Robot from FANG OF THE SUN DOUGRAM raises his articulated arm in defiance. in 1984, this two-inch rubber figure was individually wrapped and sold in Spencer's Gifts in the mall with a triangular label reading "Leadworks Taiwan" affixed thereon. I could get an entire column out of the crazy anime stuff I found in Spencer's Gifts, but that's for another time.

Meanwhile, MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM is here represented by a printed cardboard target mounted on a plastic base. This was packaged with a dart gun, encouraging America's youth to regard the "White Mobile Suit" as an enemy. Influence of Zeon spies in the toy industry, I imagine.

If you ever wanted a tiny super robot to wear as a good luck charm to ward off evil, this COMBATTLER V charm fits the bill, coming complete with a little ring for threading and jointed arms and legs. Hard to believe this super robot actually weighs 550 tons, let alone could threaten us all with his super electromagnetic yo-yo.

He never made it to television as part of the VOLTRON series, but DALTANIAS here proudly stands as tall as he can, being only two inches in length. Still, his regal bearing inspires confidence.

For some reason I have a whole bunch of tiny figures from GALACTIC WHIRLWIND SASURAIGAR, the third of Kokusei Eigasha's J-9 series of early 1980s robot cartoons. Unlike Daltanius or most of these other robots, the J-9 never got within a hootin' holler of an American TV release. Not wild enough to be "super robots", way too improbable to be "real robots", shows like Sasuraigar defy categorization by anal-retentive anime fans. At any rate, our tiny inch-high Sasuraigar poses with gun in hand, molded in soft yellow plastic.

The actual mecha from the show is a lot closer to this Takatoku toy. Of course the actual mecha from the show transforms into a space-faring steam engine railway train, the better to allow it to wander freely through space fulfilling the pun in the show's name ("sasurai" means "wandering").

The cast of the show was also tastefully rendered in the medium of multicolored tiny plastic figurines. Why don't more artists express their vision thusly? From left to right we have Rock Anrock, Beat McKenzie, Birdie Show (in pink) and suitably green is I.C. Blues, the computer-genius zillionaire who built the Sasuraigar in order to win a bet. (Character names courtesy C/FO MAGAZINE VOL. 2 # 10, 1985.)

More familiar to American audiences will be this MOSPEADA figure. Is that Stick Bernard or Rook Bartley inside that Cyclone? We may never know. This little snap-together model came in one of those plastic eggs you bought for twenty five cents of your VERY OWN MONEY. The little bit of kneaded eraser at the foot there is to keep him standing up, them little toys aren't so balanced.

And here we have the little GOD MARS robot purchased in the Kroger bubblegum machine. Actually this was a transforming robot, if you got all six robots - Gaia, Sphinx, Uranus, Titan, Shin, and Ra - you could stick them all together to assemble God Mars, just like Takeru does in the show! However, they will NOT, repeat NOT, combine to make a bomb designed to destroy the entire Earth.

Who knows what tiny anime toy treasures lurk in the crevices of automobile upholstery, the corners of toy boxes, under sofa cushions across America? Can the history of Japanese cartoons in America be written in rubber and plastic? We here at Let's Anime say YES.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

the yamatocon excuse

I realize Let's Anime posts have been thin on the ground since Christmastime, and I do apologize. Part of why this is, is because I wrote an article for the Star Blazers fan website about Yamatocon, the 1983 Star Blazers convention in Dallas Texas. This article is now up at COSMO DNA, aka, for you to read and enjoy!

I also wrote a short review for the upcoming OTAKU USA magazine, and that took a little time away from the dear Let's Anime. And of course every week over at Mister Kitty I provide commentary for items of questionable quality culled from our vast comic book collection. So it's not like I ain't been busy.

At any rate we should have something goofy for you here in a little while - so don't touch that dial!