Monday, November 24, 2014

and now back to our long distance dedication

Hello, this is Casey Kasem, back from the beyond to count down the 10 biggest classic-anime hits in the 50 states. And now for our long distance dedication. Here's one we can all understand, whether we have kids or pets or neither. It's the top ten Western pop music songs that were either written about anime characters, or are covers of anime theme songs, or in some way became connected to classic anime. Does that make any sense, that Japanese cartoons were enough of a part of the pop culture landscape to inspire musicians for decades? It does to me. Is Don on the phone? And I also want to know what happened to the pictures I was supposed to see this week! I want someone to use his freaking brain to not come out of a gosh-darned record that is, uh, that is up-tempo and I gotta talk about a... um... uh... and now, on with the countdown. Here's number ten.

Modern power pop troubadour Matthew Sweet spent time in Athens GA playing in a band that also featured Michael Stipe's sister before recording his debut solo LP, which failed to impact the music scene. Its followup also fizzled. It took a rock retooling, an embrace of his inner fanboy, and a couple of eye-catching videos to put Sweet on the charts, and one of the hits from his third album 'Girlfriend' was this tune, "I've Been Waiting". The song was paired to visuals from the first Urusei Yatsura film "Only You" to create a unique music video experience, even among the outlandish landscape of music videos.

As The Buggles, new wave bad boys Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes inadvertently turned the world on its ear when the Russell Mulcahy-directed music video for their song "Video Killed The Radio Star" gained fame as the first ever video broadcast on the nascent cable channel MTV. They'd later be picked to form a short lived iteration of prog rock legends Yes, which in the early 80s would doom The Buggles as a creative entity. Horn would go on to produce ABC, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and The Art Of Noise, while Downes would leave Yes to form prog-rock supergroup Asia with members of ELP and King Crimson. However we can look back fondly at The Buggles' first album, which featured sharp, tightly produced nervous New Wave hits like this song, "Astro Boy (And The Proles On Parade)" Does it have anything to do with the cartoon Astro Boy? You decide.

Moving on to number 8 in our countdown, SoCal punkers The Dickies gave the hardcore scene a swift, humorous kick in the pants with their speedy, goofy, un-serious brand of aggressive punk rock. This led to The Dickies being featured as the first punk band to make an appearance on American network television (on C.P.O. Sharkey) and the first punk band to have a top ten single that was a cover of the theme song to a TV show starring people in giant dog outfits (with their cover of "Tra-la-la The Banana Splits Song").  Here The Dickies regale us with their excellent cover version of the theme to everybody's favorite show about the young boy and the super robot whose power is in his hands, Gigantor.

Here at number seven, we have the odd yet strangely fitting combination of a 1972 hit single from an Irish singer-songwriter and a single episode of a 1986 anime series. What interesting alignment of cosmic forces placed the Gilbert O'Sullivan single "Alone Again (Naturally)" as the opening credits song for episode 24 of Maison Ikkoku? Was the new theme song - "Suki sa" by Anzen Chitai - simply not ready yet? Or was there a slip-up or a prankster at master control? O'Sullivan's song would spend six weeks at the top of the charts in 1972 but in '86 it would flash past our TV screens in ninety seconds, and would never make it onto American releases of the the Maison Ikkoku TV series, for obvious copyright reasons.

Coming in at number six we have the three or four nice girls who make up the self-styled "dyke rock" combo Two Nice Girls, bridging the gap between radical lesbian feminism and sarcastic punk rock, delivering an Austin-style twang to their cover of the theme song to everybody's favorite cartoon about the Greatest Race Car Driver In The World, young Speed Racer. Keep an ear out for the new lyrics!

At the other end of the musical Speed Racer spectrum, here at number five we have Alpha Team's techno-dance track "Speed Racer", which is pretty much the early 1990s condensed into one four minute headache full of drum machines and samples, promoted by what may be the worst music video ever made.

Meanwhile back in the 1980s, LA new wavers the Gleaming Spires ask the musical question, "Are You Ready For The Sex Girls?"  Almost members of Sparks, the Gleaming Spires would have a KROQ hit with this tune. "Sex Girls" would wind up in Hollywood films and as music in one of Pinesalad Productions' parody dubs of television episodes of seminal 80s action anime Dirty Pair, bringing the Gleaming Spires to an audience far beyond the reach of Rodney Bingenheimer. Also, the Spire's music video for this song is an all-time classic.

"We never had a manager. We never had a booking agent. We never had a lawyer. We never took an advance from a record company. We booked our own tours, paid our own bills, made our own mistakes and never had anybody shield us from either the truth or the consequences. The results of that methodology speak for themselves: Nobody ever told us what to do, and nobody took any of our money." Steve Albini; Nirvana engineer, outspoken rock industry gadfly, techno-brutalist noise innovator, and all around tough as nails music legend, brings us to number three on our countdown as he and his band Big Black deliver a 1984 tune about the coolest character to ever walk through a 1960s Japanese cartoon about auto racing. I'm talking about Racer X, of course. Find out where he keeps his speed!

From the industrial punk of Big Black to the orchestral glam of Queen, we come to Queen guitarist Brian May and HIS mid-80s EP flirtation with Japanese pop culture, Star Fleet Project. Enchanted by the sci-fi adventures then enthralling his young son, May found himself fascinated by the show Star Fleet, the English version of the Japanese puppet adventure X-Bomber. This 1978 series starred puppet characters designed by manga legend Go Nagai and a space-opera aesthetic that lay somewhere between Leiji Matsumoto star-romance and George Lucas pyrotechnic adventure. What could be more natural than to recruit some accomplices, including Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen, into the studio for some outer space puppet robot space cover-song action?  Nothing, that's what, and the result takes the number two slot our countdown- Brian May and the Star Fleet Project with "Star Fleet".

Of course, if you want to be like top animation director Hideaki Anno and sing along to the original Japanese X-Bomber theme song by BOWWOW, you're in good company.

And now we're down to the number one song in the United States, if the United States was one guy making an arbitrary list. The Number One song is... yes! It's Matthew Sweet back on the countdown with the title track from his 1991 album, Girlfriend. This driving, top-10 single brought Sweet to the
attention of the music industry, rock fans, and anime nerds alike with its brilliant production and clear power-pop alternative rock sound, which still plays as fresh as it did on college radio back in '91. Was the still-infant anime industry in North America boosted by seeing Space Adventure Cobra on MTV sixteen times a day, intriguing audiences with its mix of sexy ladies and Psycho Guns? I like to think so.

I'm Casey Kasem from Hollywood, and you've been listening to Classic Anime Top Ten. Join us each week at this same time as we count down the biggest hits in the classic anime world. Until next time, keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!

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Friday, November 7, 2014

The "Space Cruiser Yamato" Generation

This is an article from Japan Echo vol VI, No. 1, 1979, about the Space Cruiser Yamato phenomenon as seen by Mitsuru Yoshida, whose qualifications to speak on the subject are beyond dispute; he served on the actual battleship Yamato during World War Two. His memoir "Requiem For Battleship Yamato" should be required reading for anyone interested in the Pacific War in general, or super-battleships in particular.  I xeroxed this article from the bound periodicals section of my university library some years ago, and present it here as a public service.

Thanks for reading Let's Anime! If you enjoyed it and want to show your appreciation for what we do here as part of the Mister Kitty Dot Net world, please consider joining our Patreon!