Friday, July 24, 2009

Spaced-Out Japanimation, Man

Back in the misty ages of the past - we're talking the 1990's- when the twin trip-hammer blows of POKEMON and SAILOR MOON had blasted an American pop consciousness already reeling from the art-house opus AKIRA and the cries of disbelief as entire divisions of college sophomores entertained their dateless peers with sensual, late-night screenings of LEGEND OF THE OVERFIEND and NINJA SCROLL... there came a time when the Eighth Seal was opened and THE TRUTH was revealed to America's home video marketing executives.

This TRUTH was, of course, that we'd now reached a point in Western civilization where people would buy DAMN NEAR ANYTHING that had a Japanese cartoon character on it. I'm talking skateboards. "Hook-Ups" T-shirts. Comics drawn in the "manga style" by Americans. And, of course, videos! Videos of new anime releases, videos of anime movies, and videos of anime TV shows from twenty years ago that have been through the "public domain" mill so many times that the "public" is looking desperately around for somebody to take over the copyright just to get it out of the "$1.99 Movies" bin at the Wal-Mart to make way for Dorf golfing videos and remaindered copies of "Batman Forever".

But how to sell goofily-dubbed primitive Toei super robot cartoons to the sophisticated American retailer? One word - packaging.

And that's how Parade Video (distributor of, among other things, the incredible Peter Sellers film THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT) came to unleash SPACED-OUT JAPANIMATION on the world! Yes, SPACED-OUT JAPANIMATION, the amazing 4-tape set that satisfies ALL your Japanimation needs,as long as your Japanimation needs include "buying a Christmas present for that nephew who will NOT SHUT UP about something called "Japanimation". How many kids asked Santa for, say, GUNDAM WING or ESCAFLOWNE videos, and instead found SPACED OUT JAPANIMATION under the tree? Many a forced grin and a stammered "Thanks, Grandpa!" would be heard on Christmas morning that year, I can tell you!

Sold through your snappier mall video outlets like the late, lamented Suncoast Video, SPACED-OUT JAPANIMATION stands as a testament both to the staying power of cheap, public domain video AND to a public's brief but intense love affair with those big-eyed Japa-heeno cartoons. Not to mention the "throw it all up there and slap a gradiated logo on it" design aesthetic of the 1990s, where minimalism and taste were abandoned in favor of FLAMES!!! and METALLIC SHEEN!!! If there isn't a van out there with this artwork airbrushed on the side, I can only ask "why not?"

And yet, SPACED-OUT JAPANIMATION is not without its charms. This 4-tape set devotes one tape each to the 1970s Toei series GRANDIZER, SPACEKETEERS, GAIKING, and STARVENGERS - all Jim Terry dubs from the seminal super robot TV package FORCE FIVE that entertained us all in the fall of 1980 when the world was young and we wanted nothing more than to climb into a flying saucer that jammed itself into a giant robot armed with "hydro-phasers" and "space thunder" like in GRANDIZER. Grandizer, or "UFO Robo Grendizer" as it is sometimes known, is of course the 1974 Go Nagai-created Toei anime series that picked up right where one of the MAZINGER series left off, as it stars MAZINGER's Koji Kabuto in a supporting role. Koji's well-known bad-assery is overshadowed by that of Grandizer's pilot, the even angrier and more destructive Duke Freed, whose entire planet was destroyed by aliens from Vega who have followed him to Earth to finish the job. Luckily, Duke Freed - or "Orion" as he's known in the West - has the super robot Grandizer with which to exact vengeance. 

Three pilots, three robots, no waiting: Starvengers
STARVENGERS, being a localization of the sequel to Go Nagai's GETTA ROBO, starts off confusingly as the damaged original Getta Robo is demolished and an unidentified fallen hero is mourned (GETTA's Musashi). But the series picks right up with a new super robot and enlightens us all to the possibility of 3 jet planes that combine to form three different super robots to battle the Pandemonium Empire, a horned race of devils, one of whom is apparently a Hitler cosplayer. Can't make this stuff up, kids. Well, somebody can. Just not me. 

Gaiking gets the "oriental restaurant" font for its title
GAIKING asks the anime question, what if an alien planet was destroyed by a black hole and the aliens attacked Earth which was defended by a giant robot space dragon that launched a horned super robot piloted by people dressed as baseball players? What if? What if the series was originally pitched to Toei by, yes, Go Nagai, who was to see it developed and broadcast without further input or approval or residuals, which would then sever his relationship with Toei for decades to come? And what if GAIKING managed to wring reasonably entertaining adventures starring the Space Dragon, the Gaiking robot, and his fellow dinosaur-mechas battling Zelons on Mt. St. Helens? What if, huh?

Hero, fat guy, mean guy, princess, Spaceketeers

SPACEKETEERS is the odd show out in this set, lacking the giant robots and legions of enemy mechanical brutes attacking Earth. A Leiji Matsumoto creation, under its original title SF SAIYUKI STARZINGER the series was yet another animated adaptation of the "Journey To The West" legend, dressed up with cyborg space warriors in well-armed space scooters, the impressive Cosmos Queen starship, and Princess Aurora, whose beauty entranced us all whether she was sporting her space miniskirt or her space prom dress.

Missing from the SPACED-OUT JAPANIMATION set is DANGUARD ACE, the series where Leiji Matsumoto really started working out his Velikovsky theories about tenth planets careening wildly through our solar system. But there's only room for 4 tapes in tha box; something had to go.

The benefit of a wide early 1980s home video release from Family Home Entertainment, the FORCE FIVE shows could be found in episodic and compilation-film versions in your neighborhood video rental shops. A few years later, incredibly cheap, poorly-transferred public-domain video releases of the same tapes, with new titles like "Robo-Formers" and "Zalo," began to appear in drugstores and discount shops across the land.

On first glance, SPACED OUT JAPANIMATION would appear to be just another cheap, 6-hour speed public domain copy of a copy of a copy release of our old Force Five favorites. But the surprising fact is that, even though these tapes are recorded in the penny-pinching SLP 6-hour mode, the transfers are actually pretty good. Better, in fact, than the video quality of the bootleg DVD sets that are floating around. When we consider that the FHE tapes are starting to disintegrate because of their age, SPACED OUT JAPANIMATION becomes a possible alternative to our other choice, which is the unthinkable possibility of never watching SPACEKETEERS ever again. And we can't let that happen.

SPACED OUT JAPANIMATION - exploitative bargain-basement video release? Signpost of a time when anime ruled the video stores? Or valuable part of your balanced Japanese cartoon collection? It's all these things... and more.

-Dave Merrill

(editor's note, 2017: The original Japanese Gaiking TV series has been released on DVD from Discotek Media. English-dubbed Gaiking, Spaceketeers and Danguard Ace compilation film DVD sets have been released by William Winckler. Grandizer and Starvengers remain spaced-out.)

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Ninjatron said...

I have this!
It was my only exposure to the Jim Terry stuff, having never seen any of it as a child. The dubs were goofy but their was a charm to the whole package that shone through. I really liked Starvengers and forced my students to watch it. I don't think they appreciated it as much as I did.


ferricide said...

i remember this tape, but stopped reading the blog post halfway through for the same reason i never bought it.


Chris Sobieniak said...

Heh, I bought a couple of those tapes before the "Spaced-Out Japanimation" box came out, but I only wished we had more than two episodes on each tape.

A bit more to add was Parade Video being the subsidiary of kiddie record giant Peter Pan Industries (or used to be anyway). I only remember having to listen to their scratchy vinyl of such gems as Irwin the Disco Duck yet they had one kickass artist doing those covers (wonder what a version of Getter Robo would look like through his eyes?).

Devlin Thompson said...

The artist in question was former Disney employee George Peed, and he was the brother of better-known animator/kids' book author Bill Peet. "Peed" is the actual family name...according to Wikipedia, "He changed his last name because as a child he was teased because of his last name, and didn't want his children to be teased the same way he was teased during childhood."

Helen McCarthy said...

Yet another reason to keep the old multistandard VCR going for as long as there are parts to cannibalise...

Unknown said...

I just posted some scans of the Spaceketters VHS box art over at the Anime Hell blog:

Rrgan Strongblood said...
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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Aw man, MKV's... don't get me wrong, I love that you guys subtitled this and did all the work and stuff. I just hate MKV files, they're a pain in the ass.

Kiggy said...

I remember going to Video Rental places and gawk at the beautiful art on FHE boxes.

Starvengers, Grandizer, Spaceketeers, King Arthur, Angel.

aaaah, those were the days....

Chris Sobieniak said...

Kiggy said...

I remember going to Video Rental places and gawk at the beautiful art on FHE boxes.

Starvengers, Grandizer, Spaceketeers, King Arthur, Angel.

aaaah, those were the days....

The Captain Harlock box wasn't too bad either (besides volume 2's contents).

d.merrill said...

Upon review I did remove some years-old comments with links to torrents that, in the intervening years, now seem to be broken or compromised, and at any rate, were for torrents of anime that is now commercially available in the West. So here ya go: