Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gakuen Tokusou Hikaruon

This is the kind of OAV that you get a copy of in 1987, watch once or twice, forget about in favor of the DIRTY PAIR movie or BUBBLEGUM CRISIS videos, and next thing you know it's 2011 and you're digging VHS tapes out of a box wondering what the hell "Hikariyon" is. Except the tape is labeled "Space Sheriff" and that's funny because the guy who labeled it “Space Sheriff", he obviously couldn't read even basic katakana. Yet he was the kind of guy who would insult the Japanese language skills of others. These are the kinds of people one was forced to deal with in "the good old days".

So let's just get this out of the way. You know about KAMEN RIDER and ULTRAMAN, right? You know about all the Sentai shows and the shows like DENJIN ZABOGA and SPACE IRONMAN KYODAIN and STARWOLF and all the wild live-action shows that sell toys to Japanese kids. Well, there's a subset of tokusatsu that's called 'uchuu keiji' which is charmingly transliterated as "space sheriff", though aficionados prefer the term "metal hero". Except there are "metal hero" shows that aren't "uchuu keiji" shows. Anyway... this concerns outer-space lawmen who come to Earth, specifically Tokyo, to battle evil outer space villians and monsters from other dimensions. Our Uchuu Keiji heroes transform into high-tech armor and use ray guns, light sabers, motorcycles, Mazda RX-7s, and the occasional super robot or giant dragon ship to fight for justice. The first "Metal Hero" series was UCHUU KEIJI GAVAN in 1982, followed by UCHUU KEIJI SHARIVAN in '83 and UCHUU KEIJI SHAIDER in 1984. Later the "Metal Hero" genre lost the Star Wars trappings and got more down to earth with shows like METALDAR, WINSPECTOR, and JANPERSON ("Fight For Justice!")

Meanwhile in 1986 the Japanese animation industry was in the midst of an original video animation boom. Home video was hot and rental shops needed product to keep people coming in the door. In America that meant keeping your local video store well stocked with VHS copies of "Down & Out In Beverly Hills" "Runaway Train" and "9 1/2 Weeks". In Japan this meant original, direct-to-video animation releases DIGITAL TARGET GREY, URBAN SQUARE, FANDORA, OUTLANDERS, DEL POWER X, COSMOS PINK SHOCK, something called "Pink Noise Volume 1 Call Me Tonight", and coming up in January 1987, Volume 2 of the Pink Noise series, Gakuen Tokusou ("Campus Special Investigator) HIKARUON.

The OVA boom meant freedom for animators as they were not limited by the constraints of merchandise-driven broadcast television or the dictates of the theatrical film industry Freedom! Expressed in this instance by AIC making the interesting choice to create an animated version of a Uchuu Keiji show. And that’s just what we get with HIKARUON.

Ms. Adzumi, Hikaru

Ms. Adzumi’s class at Ryotoku Academy High School has a new student, Hikaru Shihoudou. It also has a big problem with teenage suicides as we see in a pre-title sequence. Hikaru hasn’t even taken his seat before he runs afoul of the classroom bully, giant gang leader Gomi. Cutesy class vice-president Yayoi Shiina stands up to Gomi’s bullying, but her subsequent assault is interrupted by Hikaru and his ninja darts. Turns out Hikaru is, surprise, actually Hikaruon, a metal hero space sheriff tokusatsu super fighter. Together with Ms. Adzumi he infiltrates high schools, 21 Jump Street style, to battle Uraer, an evil monster from another universe who gains power by stealing the precious souls of high school students.

Classy cars, classy teacher outfits, hideous monsters.

After school, Hikaru walks Yayoi home and they’re attacked by Gomi’s street gang in a well-animated scene involving a tricked out Mitsubishi sports car. Clearly they’re on the track of the bad guys. The next evening Hikaru tracks down the ringleader while Adzumi puts on her miniskirt to investigate some nightclubs, and winds up assaulted by punk rock club ninjas. And I mean “assault” in the “clothes get ripped off and it's pretty clear there's a gang rape about to happen” sense. Because that's what we need in our Space Sheriff story, implied gang rape? Looks like superhero decadence hit the OVA world about twenty years early. If this was an episode of LAW AND ORDER SVU or a more adult-themed anime video like, say, the others in the “Pink Noise” series, sexual assault would be a thematic fit. But this is an animated video about a super hero in metal armor who fights for justice and says so while waving his arms meaningfully, and as such is meant for six year olds, and I don’t know how you raise YOUR kids, but my kids, if I had any, would be at least eight or nine before I start advising them to avoid nightclubs filled with punk rockers possessed by demons from the ultra-dimension.


Luckily the virtue of our female characters is well-protected. Yayoi, tricked into the evil Uraer dimension, is menaced by our evil Uraer monster, but Hikaru waves his hands and becomes, you guessed it, Hikaruon, complete with red and blue metal armor, laser gun, Justice Blade, super motorbike, and a habit of shouting the name of whatever special attack or gadget he's about to use. I am being very serious here when I say that this is a note-perfect animated version of a Uchuu Keiji television show, complete with motorcycle sidecar, flashing light sabers, and a mid-battle dimension jump. With his various high tech super weapons Hikaruon is naturally able to defeat Uraer, who as it turns out was really class president Amakusa in disguise. That’s a win for clean student government if there ever was one.

Backgrounds courtesy ultra dimension. Yayoi's outfit courtesy 1980s fashion sense

As to why AIC figured that the world needed an animated version of a show the world already had 100+ perfectly watchable episodes of - not a parody, not a loving homage, just a standalone episode of a show, as if there was a whole season of HIKARUON and this was just a sample – well, maybe we’ll never know. Director Kazuhiro Ochi worked on a whole raft of different series, from the 1980 TETSUJIN 28 to LADY LADY, FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, the animated version of the live action RAINBOWMAN, GOD MARS, and the HO-scale fighting robot show PLAWRES SANSHIRO and one imagines he’s a director who could handle damn near anything. What we see in HIKARUON is nothing special – you will see the same exact creepy, drippy ultra-gross space monsters in every OVA from this period, from ICZER ONE to YOTODEN to CRYSTAL TRIANGLE, and while the fight scenes are nicely animated, the show neither fully embraces nor breaks free of its source material’s grip as we saw in, say, ASSEMBLE INSERT or PREFECTURAL HIGH SCHOOL EARTH DEFENSE FORCE. However, for those looking for something extra in their animated versions of live-action hero genre shows, we’re given some ultra-creepy attempted rapes. Go HIKARUON! Go right back to 1987 and stay there.

edited to correct my own translation errors

-Dave Merrill

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

process of elimination

"HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED HOW ASTRONAUTS GO TO THE BATHROOM?" Visitors to the men's room at the US Space And Rocket Center in Huntsville Alabama were greeted with this question - at least they were the last time I was there, which was a good 25 years ago. A recorded voice led us gently but firmly through the various procedures necessary for elimination of bodily wastes in a zero gravity environment, accompanied with slides and actual examples of the various hoses, nozzles, collection bags, and accoutrements that our brave spacemen and spacewomen used to answer the call of nature outside Earth's atmosphere.

It was right around this time that the Japanese explored this selfsame scenario through the medium of -what else? Comic books. So, in honor of the last flight of America's Space Shuttle, we present a manga tutorial on How Astronauts Go To The Bathroom. Enjoy! WARNING: this deals with how astronauts go to the bathroom.

Mitsu-chan, Don, and Professor Space blast off on board the Space Shuttle for an exciting and educational visit to outer space. Many fascinating facts are revealed concerning rocketry, ballistics, orbital mechanics, radiation, and the behavior of living organisms in low-gravity environments. And in the midst of all this learning, Don's gotta take a space leak.

Everything seems to be fairly straightforward, but there are inherent difficulties involved in the ejection of liquid materials that Don has not taken into calculation.

You thought the restrooms at the ballgame were nasty? Space travel multiplies the ick factor by several thousand million as thoughtless or delinquent patrons can now contaminate, well, pretty much everything via FLYING PEE BALLS.

Thankfully astro-science was thinking ahead and provided our space environment with a handy pee-vacuum designed to clean up after Doofus here.

Proper astro-urination procedure is effected by inserting pee-nozzle apparatus (standard issue) into collection device, activating negative-pressure air control, and then allowing liquid to flow naturally into reservoir compartment. Pee-shy personnel should consult with astro-urologist.

Solid waste collection involves a giant vacuum that collects the, uh, solid waste, and is, uh, charmingly anthropomorphized. Thanks Japan.

Luckily for girls, who can't insert things into other things, there's a sit-down vacuum-enabled space toilet. And luckily for everybody, it has its own room where such things can be done in privacy. Thank goodness.

When you're finished - remember to take an astro-shower! Let's keep it clean in outer space.

Illustrations taken from the educational comic LIVING IN SPACE: SECRETS OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE.