Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Earth Defense Command Wants You

My thanks to Derek Wakefield, Meri Davis, Logan Darklighter, Jeff "Dynamic Do-All" Blend, and Steve Harrison for their assistance in preparation of this article, which originally appeared a few years back on

Once upon a time, one of the major anime fandom groups in the United States was based in Dallas, named after the military organization in Star Blazers, and made up of space battleships devoted to defending the Earth in the early 2200’s. This is their story.

Star Blazers fandom in Texas came out of the early 80s with a salute and a table of organization thanks to roots in both high school R.O.T.C. and Star Trek fandom.  Derek Wakefield was still in Denton high school when a January 1982 rerun of Star Blazers sparked the decision to turn his embryonic science-fiction club into a dedicated Star Blazers fan organization.  Derek had experience in fandom, being a SF fan introduced to the national Star Trek organization “Star Fleet Command” by the flight commander of his school’s Air Force Junior ROTC class.

(Derek) I was already a raving SB fan by that time. However, I was of the belief I was probably alone in that conviction. As such, a general SF theme seemed to be a safer bet.  Once SB returned to the airwaves in Jan 82, I opted to throw caution to the wind.

As a result of Derek’s organizational fervor and love of Star Blazers, American anime fans would not only get a Yamato-themed fan club with a slightly militaristic bent, but the genesis of the longest-running continuously operating anime convention in the United States. 

Derek’s new SB club attracted attention through flyers in local comic shops and a publicity blitz at “Star Con”, a Dallas area SF convention.  In the meantime Derek was in contact with Westchester Films, who put him in touch with Mike Pinto of the Star Blazers Fan Club in New York.  Not seeing eye to eye with Pinto on several issues, Derek would build his Star Blazers club – the Earth Defense Command – in the spirit of the Star Fleet organization he’d previously been involved with; meaning, a naval-type organization with chapters serving as “ships”, chapter heads as “captains”, and a hierarchical structure based on the Earth government military as seen in Star Blazers.

(Logan Darklighter) There was an awareness of The Star Blazers Fan Club (SBFC) in the northeast at the very beginning (…). To be honest, one of the reasons (though most definitely not the main one) that Derek started the EDC was in part because he had been a member of SBFC and the leader of that club, Mike Pinto, rubbed him the wrong way on something. I don't even know if Mike Pinto was even aware of the EDC at the time, or if he had any antagonism towards Derek. I just know that Derek had some mild antagonism towards Mike when the subject ever came up. And even that antagonism was mild. More of a rivalry of sorts. "We can do better than them" sort of thing.

(Mike Pinto) My problem with the EDC was that I felt that what set Star Blazers apart was that it wasn't a mere cartoon aimed at kiddies, and was in fact a serious science fiction epic that could be watched by adults just like re-runs of Star Trek or the Star Wars film. So my modeling a club and giving everyone faux titles like "Captain" was just down right silly! How were we going to win over fans to anime if they came across a closed fandom where everyone pretended they were in the show. Certainly Star Trek fans didn't do this, and I was going to be damned if this lot ruined anime for generations to come! PS: Of course keep in mind that in 1980 I was just 15 years old, so the topic of a teen watchin' cartoons was a pretty sensitive one.

August 1983 was the date of the first convention dedicated to Japanese animation in America –the fabled Yamato Con at the Harvey House in North Dallas. Coordinated by a shadowy Dallas figure known only as "Bobb", Yamato Con surfaced in 1983 and again in 1986. The same organization sponsored another show with the name Ani-Magic. At the first Yamato-Con, the big attraction was an entire series of Star Blazers shown back to back, and a Yamato film screened in the original Japanese.  The EDC was organized enough to attend and distribute flyers. 

(Derek)The EDC had nothing to do with that event (other than showing up, putting out EDC flyers, and taking advantage of the co-mingling of SB fans). However, the con and the establishment of a SB fan base in the area did coincide during the same time period.
(Logan)The very first convention held in the local area that was all Star Blazers oriented was called Yamato-Con. And that was where I joined up with the EDC. I won the model contest there. Mostly by default, as I was practically the only entrant! (But I think I would have won anyway, with my meticulous cut-away model of the Yamato. Which I still own, BTW)

By the early 1980s Japanese animation was an undeniable part of American popular culture.  Anime – “Japanimation” or “Japanime” as it was then known - was carving out its own fandom niche alongside Star Trek, Doctor Who, and other media fandoms.  Audiences enjoyed Star Blazers, Battle Of The Planets, the Jim Terry “Force Five” package of super robot cartoons, and reruns of earlier shows like Speed Racer and Astro Boy, as well as a steady infiltration of toys and model kits marketed to an America hungry for science fiction in the post Star Wars era.  Anime comics, manga, model kits, LPs and other merchandise were available at SF conventions and the cooler comic shops, and fan organizers were already beginning to marshal their forces on a regional and national level to create the anime fandom of the 80s and beyond. Though shrouded in obscurity, Yamato Con’s existence is proof of Japanese animation’s impact in early 1980s America.

At Yamato Con, the star attraction was a copy of Be Forever Yamato with commentary provided by Jeff Blend.  In the audience was Meri Davis, who would later go on to head not just the EDC but also Project A-Kon, the first continuously-operating Japanese animation convention in the United States. As she puts it, “I heard Jeff translating Be Forever Yamato from the front of the room, and realized there was a lot more to the genre than just the series we'd seen on TV.”

Jeff and Derek and the burgeoning EDC would become the go-to guys for showing Yamato and any other anime at any Dallas area science-fiction fandom social event.

(Jeff Blend)There was a convention being held downtown.  The actual con was being held in an underground parking garage (that’s what they thought of Sci-Fi fans, I suppose).  Anyway, the convention had agreed to allow us to show this Yamato stuff.  They basically roped off a section of this garage with bedsheets to form a room that held maybe twenty chairs.  We showed a multi-generation copy of Be Forever Yamato with no subtitles (in those days, there was no such thing as subtitled pro copies – and we watched and liked it, damn it!  We had fun trying to guess the plot and making up our own dialogue – a non-parodied version of MST3K, you might say).  If I recall, we didn’t do too bad with the results – we certainly had people curious, some even stuck it out to watch.

United in their love for Star Blazers, Meri and Derek would join forces. The EDC began to have regular meetings, screen anime at SF conventions (particularly Larry Lankford’s Dallas Fantasy Fair), and reach out to anime fandom on a national level. At its late 80s peak the EDC had chapters in several states and a membership in the 300-400 person range. The primary means of communication and participation for members outside the Dallas “Metroplex” area was the fanzine NOVA and the newsletter WHISPERS OF ISCANDAR. The EDC would also publish an interim newsletter (“Sunburst”), an all-comics companion to NOVA titled SHONEN WILDSTAR, and SASHA'S SOLILOQUY, a collection of fan art. 

Dues to join the EDC started off at $5 a year and were adjusted upwards to $7, $8, and $10 (as of 1993).  Members were promised quarterly issues of NOVA and WHISPERS.  In practice, both fanzines appeared roughly twice a year.  NOVA began as a 8.5 x 11-sized magazine, spent a few issues as a digest, and returned to the full-page format for the remainder of its run.  Early articles included synopses of the various Yamato films and TV series, with notable exceptions being articles about Mobile Suit Gundam and fan fiction including Logan Darklighter’s epic saga “Between Galaxies”, one of the earliest Star Blazers fanfics. Robotech fever struck NOVA #8 (1986) with a Macross feature and an interview with Carl Macek. By the next issue of NOVA, characters ranging from Lupin III to Eve Tokumatsuri to Captain Harlock paraded across the pages.

My own involvement with the EDC started with a flyer I picked up at an Atlanta Fantasy Fair in the summer of 1984.  I came home from the convention astonished that fans of Star Blazers existed beyond myself and my friends, and that there were enough of them to start a fan club.  After sending my membership check off to Texas, my next contact with the EDC was a telephone call from Derek asking me if I was interested in becoming head of my own EDC chapter in the Southeast.  Boy, would I!

I really didn’t give the naval organization of the EDC much thought.  It was a Star Blazers club, that’s all that mattered.  I would have joined the Masons, a clown college or the Communist Party if they’d promised me Star Blazers fandom.

The EDC always was faced with the disinterest the majority of its members held towards the paramilitary organizational “warship = chapter” thing.  Most EDC members were there for the anime fandom; the zines and the meetings and copies of Be Forever Yamato were most important. Reading the newsletters from the 1983-1985 period, several motifs are evident; difficulty in printing and distribution of fanzines, problems in starting chapters and keeping chapters active, and a general frustration at trying to fit the square peg of military task-force-based organization into the whatever-gets-us-anime round hole of fandom.

(Meri) I remember as the secretary of the EDC, typing the fanzine (Nova) and the newsletter (Whispers of  Iscandar) at work when nobody was looking (or staying late to sneak copies using trash paper to try to save a buck…)  

In the days before the desktop publishing revolution, producing fanzines was, let’s be honest, a tremendous hassle. Text had to be typed out on an old-fashioned typewriter. Typos were corrected with white-out.  Spaces for illustrations were created by judicious use of the tab key or the carriage return.  Headlines and logos had to be hand-drawn, or lettered using rub-down Letraset type.  Once ready to print, you had to find a copy machine.  In the days before Kinkos assumed dominance, photocopies were expensive, difficult to find, and varied widely in quality.

Then came the tedious business of typing out address labels, putting zines in envelopes, and schlepping the whole mess to the post office, who would proceed to lose a third of the mailing and mangle the remainder.  It was a struggle for a local fan club with 20 or 30 members; producing and mailing out a 60 page magazine to hundreds of people was a Herculean task.

As the 80s progressed, the EDC would ditch the more unwieldy military appellations and concentrate upon its core competencies – fanzines with plenty of fan art and fan fiction and whatever anime news could be gleaned from primary and secondary sources, backed up with convention anime screenings and a tape distribution service that provided the lifeblood of anime fandom, anime on videotape.

The only other national anime club - the C/FO – would eventually splinter into dozens of independent anime clubs.  However, with a core group of dedicated Dallas area fans enthusiastic about the medium and willing to work hard to bring anime into the spotlight, the EDC proved a central organization could play a role in anime fandom.

(Meri) I remember carting vid recorders and tapes to Ft Worth for their chapter meetings in a local rec center (long drive, big clunky equipment) and taking our own TV, vid recorder (this was the day of the top-loading VHS recorders that weighed a ton) and tapes to meetings in rec centers in Dallas monthly for a long time.

(Logan) Based on our rep that we made, the EDC ran the "Japanimation" rooms at the Dallas Fantasy Fairs and a couple of other local conventions. We were pretty tightly organized too. We had a set schedule of people there to run the machines and even to provide color commentary and explanations for what was happening on-screen when there were no subtitles, which were rare back then. We sometimes had people reading from a script translated from various sources in order to allow people to get the gist of the story. It was all rather intensive.

The man MOST responsible for keeping these operations all organized and running like they should was Jeff Blend. He did SO much work that he became known, somewhat jokingly, but always with great affection, as "the Dynamic Do-All" (in reference to the machine shop in the lower part of the Yamato where they made all the spare parts for the ship).

I REALLY want to stress this - Jeff Blend was THE go-to guy in the local fandom. Derek Wakefield and later Meri were good at organizing "the big picture", but if you wanted something copied, if you wanted the scripts, if you wanted the raw information, if you wanted something DONE. NOW. You went to Jeff. And he worked with everybody, regardless of fan politics. (…)  Jeff deserves more recognition for what he accomplished for fandom. Much more.

After a few years Meri was editing all the EDC publications and a crew of talented people were handling the operations of the club; Guy Brownlee would provide slick artwork for NOVA and act as convention liason; Jeff Blend continued to function as the “Dynamic Do-All”, collating all the translated information he could get his hands on and copying hundreds of hours of anime per month for anyone who asked. Logan Darklighter and Lee Madison provided hundreds of pieces of anime fan art for NOVA and related publishing projects.  Tommie Dunnam, JP Reader,  Max McArn, Tim Collier, Bud Cox, Lynn Hayes, Kenneth Mayes, Pat Munson-Siter, Bruce Lewis, James Staley, Robert Jenks, Edith DeGolyer, and scores of others worked tirelessly in the ranks of the EDC. 

 The slightly vindictive SDF Ft-Worth newsletter; YUKI, published by the Southeast chapter

Not without problems, however; whenever there are fans there are fan politics, and the Dallas area’s hothouse environment and the long history of fandom in the area meant that opportunities for drama and troublemaking were never far off.  A feud with the San Antonio C/FO club is now shrouded in the mists of time, but it caused real distress among the participants.  The Fort Worth chapter of the EDC splintered off into its own organization and published a newsletter seemingly for the sole purpose of complaining about a Ft. Worth convention and asking what was holding up the latest issue of NOVA.  At one point the head of another anime club attempted a hostile takeover of the entire EDC organization.  The situation resembled the fan feuds of today, minus the lightning quickness provided by our modern high-speed internet.

Over time the focus of the EDC shifted away from Star Blazers and towards Japanese animation as a whole. By 1987 issues of NOVA frequently featured articles on new OVAs like Iczer One, television shows such as Robotech and Saber Rider, fan fiction from Lensman and Voltron, and articles on older series like Speed Racer and Gundam as well as newer fare like Megazone 23 and Wings of Honneamise.  Artwork and comics included work from professionals like Ben Dunn, Colleen Doran, Tim Eldred, Dave Sim, the Waltrip brothers and Mike Manning, not to mention scores of amateur fan artists of every skill level.

fan art by Ken Mayes from NOVA
 The focus away from Star Blazers alienated some of the older fans, in particular Derek Wakefield, who would resign from the EDC in 1987, but the growing appeal of and  appreciation for the entire medium of Japanese animation was undeniable.  It would be years before Japanese anime fan culture in America would become sophisticated and knowledgeable enough to factionalize. Ironically, American anime fandom gained that sophistication and knowledge in part due to the convention anime screenings, the fanzines, the tape traders and the culture of the EDC and its staff and contributors. 

It’s this skilled group of EDC staffers that in 1990 would create Project A-Kon  - a anime-themed convention in Dallas aimed squarely at the audience the EDC had been cultivating for most of the 1980s.

(Meri) A-Kon started when a group of EDC'ers were at a general SF show (Star One in very late 1989) sat around talking with the head of the local Dallas EDC chapter Robert Jenks, who was going to permanently move out of state). The wish went out that 'gee everybody else has a convention, I wish we could put on an anime con before Rob has to leave' and (I) talked with the heads of Star One who gave tips, advice and hints on how this could be done (although way more expensively than first thought), and  proposed it to the group at the next EDC meeting the following month. A group of longtime EDCers including Edith DeGolyer, Guy Brownlee, Steve Treiber (who first proposed the name Project: A-Kon as a double pun on the words = it was a Project: (to put on an) Anime Convention (switching the C for the Japanese K),and playing off of  Project: A-Ko the anime show, which was still popular and new) and several others stepped up to run various departments, as they had already been working at other shows in various capacities over the years.

In addition to being an EDC staffer and a Project A-Kon volunteer, Robert Jenks would start his own Dallas anime convention, AnimeFest, which continues to this day.

Project A-Kon took off, computer networks began to take the place of print fanzines, and the new availability of Japanese animation in the American home video market began to replace the fan distribution system.  The need for a national anime fan club diminished at almost the same rate as the enthusiasm of the members shifted from fan club activity to convention planning.

(Logan) Ultimately, what killed the whole concept of the club - ANY club, not just the EDC - was how irrelevant fan clubs were becoming with the much more ready availability of films and merchandise and Anime Conventions themselves. And of course, then there was the Internet. With people able to communicate over the internet, what (was the) need of fanclubs and their printed newsletters? If you can get your info and tapes from conventions or even ordering straight from online, who needs to go to someone distributing tapes?

 By 1993 the EDC would be absorbed within the Project A-Kon organization. Without TV reruns or a home video release Star Blazers had ceased to be a “gateway” to anime fandom and certainly wasn’t popular enough to build a national fan club on, and anyway, the whole idea of a national anime club was fast becoming irrelevant.  As the 90s ended, anime conventions replaced anime clubs as the primary focus of fandom in just about every major metropolitan center in the United States.  The Earth Defense Command vanished not with a wave-motion bang but with the noisy buzz of anime convention crowds and computer modems.

Most EDC organizers continue to participate in anime fandom; Meri still runs Project A-Kon, attended by 14500 people last year.  Derek spearheaded the Yamato APA “Starsha” for several years and is still involved in Yamato fan fiction projects.  Jeff Blend continues to enjoy anime, particulary Rozen Maiden and Romeo X Juliet, as well as Avatar The Last Airbender.  Logan Darklighter describes himself as more of a manga fan these days. EDC chapter heads and members around the country went on to fill anime fandom with their own zines, clubs, conventions, and blogs.

The EDC is now merely a fond memory, but for a decade it was on the forefront of America’s anime fandom culture. Those involved look back warmly on print fanzines, narrated video rooms, fan feuds,  13th generation copies of Yamato The New Voyages with the video glitch when Iscandar explodes… but for all its hassles, the EDC was part of a tightly knit group of true believers working for a better tomorrow, or at least a tomorrow with more anime in it.  The success of Japanese animation in America today is a testament to that vision. 

-Dave Merrill

  EDC promotional artwork by Guy Brownlee

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

two of these things are not like the others

The human eye is a marvelously deceptive instrument, and loves to play tricks on even the most perceptive of us.  So when we see something that looks out of place or incongruous, many times we’ll blink or shake our head in cartoon fashion, to try and make reality conform to our default state of complacency. Reality, however, has a way of rudely insisting upon itself. Such is the case with today’s example of Objects That Shouldn’t Exist.

Kitschy “collectables”, memorabilia, tschotchkes, call them what you will; they infest knick-knack shelves and bric-a-brac cases around the world. Gift shops and antique malls are filled with them: Hummelware figurines, little porcelain cats and dogs, fake antique brass reproductions of spinning wheels, coffee grinders, and spaceships from Japanese cartoons. Wait, what was that last one again?

Yes. This is an unretouched photo of an antique mall booth featuring a table filled with little metal reproductions of various old-timey items – telephones, boilers, fans, stage-coaches, and what appear to be cement mixers. But among these quaint memories of a rustic past sits Captain Harlock’s space battleship, the Arcadia.

Rendered in the medium of faux-tarnished brass, this 1/10000 scale Arcadia features adjustable fins and is equipped with a stern-mounted pencil sharpener, which will be handy if the Mazone ever attack Earth with pencils.

Also in this series is Duke Freed’s flying-saucer based super robot platform, the Spazer, from the old-timey Gay 90s magic lantern drama UFO Robo Grendizer. Or “Grandizer” if you prefer.  This ultra-powerful interstellar robot fighting system also comes equipped with a pencil sharpener that can handle any pencils the evil Vegan aliens can dish out.

 Grendizer is always ready to deliver devastating pencil-sharpening attacks to any and all merchandise from rival animation franchises.

The big question, of course, is what in the holy hell are two Japanese animation space machines doing alongside faux repro brass telephones and coffee grinders and captain’s wheels? What was the thought process here, hey, I want an old-timey stagecoach AND Captain Harlock’s spaceship?  This weird flying saucer with a head will look great on my knick-knack shelf alongside my Precious Moments figurines?  It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It didn’t make sense the first time I saw them, it didn’t make sense after I blinked and shook my head and made the “goggle goggle” noise that Scooby-Doo and Shaggy make when they see monsters, and after spending years wasting my time obsessing over the minutiae of Japanese cartoons and super robots and spaceships, it still doesn’t make any sense.

 The sewing machine was $6.95. The Arcadia? $8.00

Sold in little teal boxes with “Made In Hong Kong” prominently displayed, these die-cast miniatures are themselves physical manifestations of three or four or five levels of global economics in action; fabricated in Asia, shipped to wholesalers in North America, parceled out to primary retail in flower shops, greeting card stores, gift boutiques, I dunno, wherever people buy the endless supply of junk they seem to feel completes every flat surface in their home, where they gather dust for ten or twenty years before they’re sold at yard sales or at bulk auction to somebody who in turn sells them to an antique store, which is where my dollar enters the picture, helping to keep the world economy moving one stupid tchotchke at a time. You’re welcome, world.

It is heartening, however, to see that these little reproductions of old-timey devices are still lurking in the hinterlands, in the junk stores and antique malls and flea markets of the world.  There must be shipping containers and storage units and unclaimed property auctions around the world filled with tiny metal coffee grinders and cement mixers and spaceships. So the next time Grandma drags you to the Grandma store to get some more knick-knacks for her bric-a-brac shelf, quit rolling your eyes and sighing and instead keep on the lookout for Grendizer. You never know where he or the Arcadia will pop up.

 The sea of stars is my home. What do I do there? Sharpen pencils.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Force To Prefecturally Earth Defend

Prefectural Earth Defense Force aka Kenritsu Chikyû Bôeigun came out of nowhere into our anime club screenings of the late 1980s. Back then it was all new and exciting; Prefectural High School Earth Defense Force, as we mislabeled it, was shown with as much fanfare or anticipation as Urusei Yatsura or Vampire Hunter D or Dirty Pair or Zeta Gundam or Macross or Madox 01 or Bubblegum Crisis; it was all new to us.

What made PEDF stand out, even to our profoundly uneducated eyes, was very simple; it’s plain crazy. The thing is funny in a very specific cartoon fashion that transcends language, culture, class, creed, race, religion or national origin.  After 20 years I’m still dropping it onto unsuspecting audiences and getting laughs; a video like that is a rare beast indeed. Sure, it's full of specific Japanese pop-culture references, the kind of references that fill most modern "comedy”.  But here it’s a bonus, not the main attraction; PEDF succeeds in spite of the Varan the Unbelievable sequence or the Rainbowman aside, goofy enough without rubbing your nose in your own otaku stink. 

note: giant robot may not actually appear in video

Chikyû Bôeigun was the original title of Toho's The Mysterians, arguably the first science fiction film highlighting Japan's flavor of mecha-infused SF - spaceships, ray guns, evil aliens, giant monsters, robots – that we’d see parlayed into legions of rubber-suit monster films and silver-suited giant-hero TV shows. Kenritsu Chikyû Bôeigun, on the other hand, is the flip side of Japan’s love of science patrols and sentai teams – a low-budget defense force financed on a small municipal budget, composed of a failed baseball team, a foreign exchange student, and a morally suspect faculty advisor.  Luckily, their adversaries are just as goofy; wanna-be world dominators perhaps equipped with super-scientific weapons and legions of faceless minions, but hamstrung by melodramatic ineptitude. 

1986’s Prefectural Earth Defense Force OVA was, like so many other OAV, based on a manga: Koichiro Yasunaga’s PEDF ran in Shonen Sunday from 1983 until 1985, with a subsequent 4-volume reprint. Yasunaga’s later work includes Kaseijin Deka (Martian Detective) and the superhero spoof Chō Kankaku Analman, which is just as unfortunate as it sounds. He has a fun, active anime-manga style that fits right in with 80s Shonen Sunday, kind of a cleaner, less raggedy version of what fellow Sunday artist Kazuhiko Shimamoto was doing in his contemporaneous Blazing Transfer Student. Both the PEDF comic and the cartoon are infused with an infectious sense of fun, the same kind of nonsensical goofball whack-a-doodlery that you get in the best Urusei Yatsura or Sasuga No Sarutobi comics, infested with nerd-culture shoutouts like chapter titles parodies of Ultra Seven episodes or naming a major character after the composer of Godzilla’s theme music. 

If you’re familiar with the OVA, you know how the manga begins. Warned by a threatening pay-phone call, the governor of an unnamed Kyushu prefecture needs a defense against the world-domination plans of the Phone Pole Team, who have decided to start small and begin their world dominating from the vicinity of the local high school. Thus:  Prefectural Earth Defense Force. Promises of a fat expense account convince high schoolers Morita, Sukekubo, and Akiko Ifukube to abandon their dreams of Koshien glory and instead become an Earth-defending justice league, overseen by math teacher Roberi.  But can their combined strength and clearance-sale uniforms withstand the onslaught of lumber dynasty scion Kisoya Chilthonian Bunzaemon Jr and his Phone Pole Team?  Phone Pole tactical commander Baradagi enlists the super ESP powers of Marker Light – whose psychic abilities are limited to vegetables – to open the assault on decency and good government. Yams fly thru the air and the war for mankind begins; an ever escalating whirlwind of unguided cyborg missiles, beach parties, flying vegetables, mohawked musclemen, faceless minions, and Party Beams. 
The Baltimore Boys bring American-style action to the prefecture

Indian exchange student and accidental 8,000 horsepower cyborg Kami Santin escapes from the university hospital and is found by faculty supervisor Roberi, who mistakes Santin for a drunken co-ed.  Santin is duly enlisted into the PEDF, in spite of his hatred of all things Japanese. Before this newcomer is even properly scoped out by our nosy heroes, Baradagi arrives with the Phone Pole Team’s top agent Scope Tsurusaki to try and talk Santin into switching teams, resulting in missile-firing, nose-punching, house-destroying hell breaking loose. 

Masked New Year and his Party Beam strike again!

Santin becomes the focus of the Phone Pole Team’s efforts but world domination is overshadowed by the day-to-day antics of the goofs on both sides. Baradagi goes undercover as a high school student named Ryuko Hara – well, okay, she actually IS a high school student named Ryuko Hara, working part-time for the Phone Pole Team – to create a scandal by seducing Roberi. The Phone Pole Team’s own cyborg-gal Yuko arrives to destroy Santin, who doesn’t want to fight but whose missiles are not always under his control. An after-hours Morita and Baradagi put aside their day-job difference for a date. Ifukube meets her ideal, the Mohawk-sporting beefcake Battle Japan, the PEDF is menaced by the Japanese-language-deficient, crossdressing Baltimore Boys, and Masked New Year blasts his Party Beam which instantly transforms any group of people into a wild New Years party.  Yuko is turned back into a normal human, albeit of a different sex, then changed back into a girl and cloned, while Santin also gets the Christine Jorgensen treatment. 

The PEDF defeats Glycogen X in hand-to-hand karaoke battle, Santin’s lumber exec sister Pamela arrives to sell Santin on the glories of the Phone Pole Team, Baradagi is forced into bicycle tofu delivery hell, and inevitably, everybody visits Los Angeles. Suddenly it’s 1985 and time for the manga to end (apart from a doujinshi sequel). The story doesn’t end there, however; Japan was in the middle of an OAV boom and what more deserving property could there be than Kenritsu Chikyû Bôeigun, I ask you? None, that’s what.

psychological profile of the Prefectural Earth Defense Force and their inner desires 

We join the (directed by animation veteran Keiji “Future Boy Conan” Hayakawa) PEDF in the middle of Morita’s earthshaking super science-fiction dream which is helpfully described in the lyrics of the rockin’ theme song by Japanese power pop trio Johnny, Louis & Char (Johnny Yoshinaga, Luis Kabe, and Japan’s national guitar hero Char). While Morita and Sukekubo snore, an angry Santin escapes from the local university hospital, our prefectural governor gets his world domination phone call, and all the pieces for Prefectural Earth Defending fall into place. With animation talent like Urusei Yatsura veterans Katsumi Aoshida and Shichiro Kobayashi it’s no surprise we’re in store for UY style bonks, booms, grunts and pows as Santin’s missiles meet Scope Tsurusaki’s Ultra Scope, milk-drinking Chilthonian plays host to the Prefectural Governor’s cute secretary, and nobody’s safe when Santin spots Roberi with Baradagi. 

Santin has a problem with going off too soon

Before you know it, Santin and Yuko are waking up with all-new aftermarket parts and Morita and Ryuko/Baradagi are walking the streets hand in hand to the wistful sounds of Johnny, Louis & Char as the credits roll.  The direct-to-video format seems perfect for titles like PEDF; the material may not stretch as successfully into a 2-hour feature or a TV season but as a 50 minute OVA you’re left entertained and sad there isn’t more.

Colonel Baradagi, Scope Tsurusaki, and friend

PEDF was released on VHS, Beta, the shortlived VHD format, and Laserdisc. As much as it made American fans laugh, it never achieved the status of fellow ’86 releases like Guyver, MD Geist, Megazone 23 part 2, or Gall Force.  However, when the North American anime boom finally hit in the mid 2000s and everything else was getting an American release, PEDF was always on the top of our wish list. Finally in 2006 ADV decided to take some of the money they were throwing at that live-action Evangelion movie (how’d that work out for you?) and spend it on releasing Prefectural Earth Defense Force as a limited edition subtitle-only DVD, sold direct through ADV’s website.  Promotional and advertising for the release was apologetic and/or nonexistent; news sites claimed it was of interest only to old-school die-hards who might have seen it fansubbed back in the day and that modern audiences would not understand all the references or the parodies, and henceforth would not enjoy it. This is of course complete nonsense; audiences completely unfamiliar with any sort of Japanese animation have been laughing themselves stupid over PEDF for years, and the practically top-secret ADV release sold out in about ten minutes. Try buying it today for less than $100. Go on, try. I’ll wait.

The cyclical nature of history is proved anew with the story of the Prefectural Earth Defense Force, a video that came out of nowhere, made us laugh, vanished, came again out of nowhere, made us laugh, and again vanished. Will it ever return? Have we seen the last of Morita, Santin, and Colonel Baradagi? The answer is on the wind, blowing past Imazuru High School, whistling forlornly through the phone poles.

-Dave Merrill

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