Monday, January 25, 2010

talkin' about fans

That's right, this LET'S ANIME column will be all about fans! You know, the kind you hold in your hand and move back and forth that kinda keep you cool? Oh, you thought we were going to talk about the OTHER kind of fan, the kind that moves from the couch to the computer and isn't EVER cool. Well, too bad.

Nope, today I'm clearly in the category of "what the hell", the kind of thing you notice out of the corner of your eye when you're digging through some Crazy Grandma antique mall out in the butt-end of nowhere, when you CLEARLY are not expecting to find evidence of the Mighty Power Of Japanimation. And you blink a few times and you ask yourself if you just really did see that, and then you ask the clerk for the key to showcase #G-7, and then you buy the thing and take it home. That's exactly what I did when I found these things.

Crazy googly-eyed Japanese fans! And not the kind that camp out waiting to ambush their favorite idol singers, either! Nope, these are little paper souvenir fans with cartoon characters printed on 'em.

The first one is an androgynous festival child wearing his or her matsuri happi coat. In the background, a crowd of revellers hoist what may or may not be the Ark Of The Covenant.

This was a promotional piece advertising the '57 Tokyo International Trade Fair, at which I bet you coulda picked up North American Tetsuwan Atomu merchandising rights for twenty bucks and a carton of Luckies. Quick, where's my time machine?

Next up is our favorite comic-strip husband, Dagwood Bumstead!

A slightly puffy, rosy-cheeked Dagwood poses with a minimalist Daisy. Star of "Blondie", a comic strip that enjoyed tremendous if inexplicable popularity in Japan, here Dagwood gets the kind of fat, slick brush line he'd never get in American comic pages, except for that week Walt Kelly and Chic Young traded strips. But what of the Japanese comic tradition? Will the Japanese powerhouse of manga-style comic art be represented in googly-eyed fan form? But of course.

Machiko Hasegawa's Sazae-San, the modern Japanese housewife who first appeared in 1946 and whose animated television series has been continually broadcast since 1969 (!!), here recieves the ultimate accolade Japan can offer by being depicted upon a cheap, possibly unlicensed paper fan. What the hell a paper fan featuring Sazae-San was doing locked in a showcase in an antique mall in Ohio is a mystery best left to professional archeologists. I am only thankful to whatever cosmic forces placed it in my hands, in all its googly-eyed glory.


More "what the hell" stuff to come here at Let's Anime! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Aura Battling The Blue Light Special

The great part about working for K-Mart back in 1985 - working part time after school, of course - was that you got to wander the toy department and marvel at the bewildering display of Japanese robot toys that were imported by every toy wholesaler with a couple of containers to fill on the next boat from Taiwan and a desire to cash in on the transforming robot toy craze. Okay, I'll be honest. The ACTUAL best thing about working part time for K-Mart was that you got paid every week in cash. Dirty, floppy cash money straight from the registers, handed to you in a little envelope through a barred window next to the time clock. None of this wimpy check nonsense or the effete snobbery of "direct deposit" - just a fat envelope of F. Olding Money for high-school me to blow on comic books, movies, renting a tux for the prom, and oh yeah, crazy Japanese toys. We'd make the rounds of the Toys "R" Us, the Circus World, the odd discount place at the outlet mall, the doomed aisles of the Zayres and the Richways and the Phar-Mors, hoping to blow our minimum-wage pay on toys from shows we'd never seen like Xabungle or Galactic Gale Baxingar or the enigmatically titled "Psycho Armor Govarion".

But at K-Mart I could haunt the aisles AND get paid for doing so. One of the things I picked up was this swell Dunbine toy. Aura Battler Dunbine is, of course, the 1983-84 Sunrise anime series directed by Yoshiyuki "Zanbot 3" Tomino about a regular Earth guy named Shou Zama. One day he gets magically transported to the fantasy-type world of Byston Well, where he becomes the pilot of the "Aura Battler" Dunbine and is caught up in a war that spreads across both Byston Well and Earth. More information about Aura Battler Dunbine can be found in the used DVD racks of your local retailer.

This 1:60 scale toy stands a little less than 6" tall and came in both black and the more traditional Dunbine purple. I went for black because that's how I roll. At any rate, this toy is unique, not just because it's based on a Japanese cartoon that wouldn't see an American release for nearly twenty years, but also because it's just a darn well-put together piece of fantasy super robot plastic.

The joints are all articulated with hinges set on pegs - the wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips and knees not only bend, but can rotate, giving the toy a really wide range of movement. The wings are translucent and fold underneath their canopy. The claw-like feet are metal and the ankle joints move, too. It's an amazingly posable figure.

It even comes with a tiny inch-high Shou Zama figure that looks swell, but isn't good for much besides falling over or getting lost. If you open Dunbine's cockpit you'll see another Shou already in position. Two Shous? I guess they figured you'd lose one. Actually the pegs holding the joints tend to slip out, so if you aren't careful you'll lose quite a bit of this toy when the cat knocks it off your desk.

The packaging is, as one would hope, a classic of weirdly transliterated Japanese. What did children think when they browsed the K-Mart toy aisles and wanted to know more about the mysterious "Dunbine"? Did they suspect that "Shot Weapon" was somebody's name? Were they relieved to find that the "reaction of aura is good"? Was ADV's release of Dunbine on DVD in the United States merely the final link some kind of cosmic chain of events that began in the mists of Byston Well, or Taiwan, whichever is nearer?

Only Yoshiyuki Tomino knows, and he ain't telling. We are only certain of one thing; this Dunbine toy is way better than the purple vinyl Dunbine I picked up at Spencer's Gifts in the mall.

-Dave Merrill

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