Saturday, November 28, 2015

at the movies

Movies! Everybody loves 'em.  And if you're reading this blog, chances are the kind of movies you like come from Japan and are animated! And chances are also that if you were a kid in the 60s or even the 70s or the 80s, you might have had the chance to see a Japanese animated film in your local drive-in or at a kiddy matinee, long before Akira and Totoro would tag-team the arthouse cinemas of North America and turn "cartoons" into "animation.” We’re talking back in the day here, long before Japanese animation was seen as a viable entertainment medium, way before anyone realized that “Annie May” was anything other than maybe the name of the big-haired lady selling tickets in the box office.
Magic Boy
And like all great journeys this one begins with a ninja. Magic Boy (Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke, 1959) would be the first Japanese animated film to get North American theatrical release, screening in June of ‘61 courtesy MGM. The ninja magic of Magic Boy was followed very closely by Globe Pictures’ American release of Toei’s Panda And The Magic Serpent (Hakujaden). This movie premiered in Japan a year before Magic Boy, making it the first color Japanese animated film. Panda, directed by Taiji Jack & The Witch Yabushita, at one point was widely available via poorly transferred public domain VHS. 60s America was filled with Japanese imports; not just transistor radios playing Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki", but anime feature films like Alakazam The Great, The Littlest Warrior,  Little Prince & The Eight Headed Dragon, and Gulliver's Travels Beyond The Moon would enthrall kids at matinees and in the playgrounds of drive-in theaters.

lobby cards, print ads, & LPs for Alakazam, Panda, and others

Once the 1970s got moving, Japan's hunger for big-budgeted children's animation features would be replaced by hunger for TV shows starring easily marketable toy robots, Ultramen, and Masked Riders. Fewer animated films were made in Japan, and consequently fewer made their way across the pond to entertain and mystify us.

poster and lobby cards for Nobody's Boy
One of these stragglers was Yugo Serikawa's Chibikko Remi to Meiken Kapi (Little Remi and Capi, The Famous Dog), the first anime adaptation of Hector "Perrine Story" Malot's novel Sans Famille. This 1970 Toei release affects a jarring, very dated 1960 visual style.  Under the title Nobody’s Boy, the film wouldn’t make it into American theaters until the early 1980s, courtesy "Malijack Productions" and an English dub starring Jim "Thurston Howell III" Backus. Nobody's Boy would later appear on cable TV and in the children's video sections of video rental stores in the US and UK.

The fairy tale Jack And The Beanstalk may be an old story, but when you put a director like Gisaburo Sugii in charge, things are bound to get surreal, and that’s exactly what happens in this 1974 feature. Nippon Herald’s Jack didn't have to wait a decade but made it to US cinemas in the year of its release via Columbia Pictures. Mixing European and Japanese animation styles, it sidesteps cliches and winds up a thoughtful, slightly eerie film, fully storybook-enabled for the kids, yet unearthly and visually dynamic enough to entertain adults.

newspaper ad from Seattle Times, June 1980
1980 would be an almost unheralded turning point in the world of anime localization; Roger Corman's New World Pictures would release Toei's 1979 Galaxy Express 999 film in theaters across America. For the first time,  a popular Japanese property would be brought to the States a few months after its Japanese release and marketed not as a children's picture but a science-fiction adventure on the level of Star Wars. This is the kind of simultaneous, professional, serious anime release we’ve come to take for granted here in the modern world, but in 1980 this approach simply hadn’t happened before.

Reviews are kinda harsh
Don't confuse "Galaxy Express" with
"Midnight Express." Trust me.
Of course the New World version of Galaxy Express would be problematic; edits for time would chop half an hour out of Tetsuro Hoshino’s journey to the Mechanized Planet, and celebrity impersonation voice acting made Captain Harlock's appearance less impressive than it might otherwise have been. It was 1980, people still didn't take Japanese animation very seriously. But, and this is the important part, they were taking it more seriously than they had been. Galaxy Express would screen across America, with trailers, radio spots, posters and TV ads advertising Leiji Matsumoto's Rin Taro-directed space fantasy to a nation just awakening to the potential of Japanese space cartoons. The film would appear post-cinema on cable TV and finish its life cycle in the shelves of home video stores with a VHS release, lodging deep in the memories of young viewers who would struggle years later to recall the name of "that cartoon with the train in space."

Five years later, in the midst of releasing gems like Space Raiders, Deathstalker, and C.H.U.D., New World snagged another prestigious Japanese anime release, Tokuma Shoten/Top Craft's Nausicaa, directed by some guy named Hayao Miyazaki. A singular science-fantasy vision of ecological destruction, the film was an instant classic and put Miyazaki on the map as Japan's top anime director. New World would waste no time in again cutting thirty minutes, dumbing down the dialogue, and creating new poster art that split the difference between Mad Max, Dune, and Star Trek. Still, we have to take the bad with the good, and Warriors would, like Galaxy Express before it, be seen on screens across the United States and Canada.

Miyazaki’s Nausicaa was powerful enough to withstand any amount of shoddy localization. Theater patrons and later those who saw the film on cable television or rental VHS couldn’t help but be impressed by the film, even if the main character was now named "Zandra", and its clear refusal to be a "children's film" makes it a milestone on American movie screens.

Toronto Star movie listing and VHS box art for "Warriors"
But was it?  Were there earlier attempts at releasing Japanese anime films aimed at grownups in America? Well, there was one. Maybe two. Osamu Tezuka's Mushi Productions, responsible for internationally successful shows about robot boys and talking white lions, took a chance on feature animation for older audiences in the late 60s. Their 1969 "Animerama" feature A Thousand And One Nights, based on Sir Richard Burton's translation of the bawdy Arabic folk tales, is a who's who of anime talent like Osamu Dezaki and Eichi Yamamoto, resulting in a reasonably entertaining if meandering film. Purportedly an English-dubbed version received a very limited theatrical release in America, but the only surviving evidence is the dubbed trailer.

from the English trailer for "A Thousand And One Nights"
Mushi's next feature, 1970s Cleopatra, was an indulgent mess, a hodgepodge of sight gags, anachronisms, and Dame Oyaji and Sazae-San cameos crammed into the story of Antony, Cleopatra, and Caesar, all bookended by a bizarre live-action/cartoon-head science-fiction subplot. A massive flop in Japan, this film was a crippling blow to Mushi's finances; desperately they licensed the movie to an American distributor, who released it with a self-imposed X rating under the title "Cleopatra Queen Of Sex." Unlike A Thousand And One Nights, evidence of Cleopatra's American release does exist; at least one screening of a subtitled print took place at New York City's Bijou in April of 1972. Variety's review is not kind, referencing a "disconcerting clash of styles in the animation" and "an overabundance of bawdy blue grossness",  remarking "it is difficult to imagine anyone being aroused by the naked breasts of a cartoon character," a sentiment no doubt shocking to today's waifu-worshipping 2D love slaves.

"Cleopatra, Queen Of Sex"
The failure of Cleopatra and of its followup Belladonna Of Sadness (which after critical re-evaluation is getting a remastered theatrical release) would leave animated films for grownups in the hands of Ralph "Wizards" Bakshi and whatever Europeans were thinking when they made Tarzoon, Shame Of The Jungle. After Warriors Of The Wind blew away, there would be a long, dark movie-house anime interregnum; sure, the stitched-together Robotech The Movie would briefly appear, only to be hurriedly whisked away to a hazardous waste containment facility.  It would be late 1989 before Streamline Pictures delivered Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira to American cinemas, making Japanese animation a force to be reckoned with wherever on the Venn diagram film snobs and animation nerds meet. Nowadays new releases of films by Mamoru Oshii or Mamoru Hosoda, Isao Takahata or Hayao “Gone Fishing” Miyazaki are a safe bet to show up in towns with hip, with-it theaters.

However, the decline of  the neighborhood video rental, difficult times for movie theater owners,  the collapse of physical media, and the whimsical unreliability of streaming video all herald a new and unsatisfying era for the seeker of slightly nontraditional cinema.  Will the local theater once again become our window into the world of non-Disney animation for adults and kids and adults who think like kids? Can we ever return to the days of the double feature, the all-night shockathon, the kiddy matinee, the hunger of an industry desperate to fill its screens with darn near anything that will fit through the projector’s shining gate? Probably not.  Still, as long as popcorn pops in a lobby somewhere, as long as our feet still stick to the floors of our neighborhood movie house, we’ll always have hope.

let's all go to the lobby

Special thanks to Chris Hill and the Toronto Public Library for their assistance.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

10th anniversary of 15th anniversary of Metal Skin Panic Madox-01

This review of AnimEigo’s Madox-01 15th Anniversary Special Collector’s Edition first appeared in 2005. Since then, I’ve learned a few more things about Madox-01, namely that Hideaki “Evangelion” Anno did some key animation for it, and that my DVD of this title has mysteriously vanished. Did I loan it to you?

Notable for being AnimEigo’s first release, Metal Skin Panic Madox-01 led the way for uncut, subtitled Japanese animation to the American market.  Before this release, anime in the States was available either as chopped-and-dubbed kidvid for the afterschool UHF audience, or as cheaply designed videotapes in the “Family” section of your local video rental. After AnimEigo and Madox, America would see an invasion of unadulterated, sometimes adults-only anime aimed directly at the shelves of your local Blockbuster, and things would never be the same again.

Apart from this note of historical interest, Madox is otherwise unremarkable except to serve as an example of several things: of the mid-1980s Original Video Animation boom, of the persistence of abnormal hair color in Japanese anime characters, and of just how obsessive and nitpicky a design team can get when it comes to military hardware.

The OVA era of the 1980s is an important time in Japanese animation; creative teams raised on groundbreaking animation like Gundam and Yamato seized the means of production and started producing direct-to-video animation. Titles like Vampire Hunter D, Bubblegum Crisis, and M.D. Geist would become legends, while others like Digital Devil Story and Cosmos Pink Shock would vanish into sometimes well-deserved obscurity.  Unrestrained by the mores of television broadcasters or the financial obligations of theatrical release, OVA productions used their freedom to produce groundbreaking, artistically challenging works that were too risky for traditional release, animation that reflected more personal visions, rather than the needs of the toy company sponsors.  Plus, they were easier for American fans to get, since you didn’t have to know somebody in Japan to tape anime from television broadcasts- you could just buy the damned things and have done with it. 

Lack of toy company sponsorship is kind of a shame in the case of Madox-01, since the mechanical hardware on display in this video cries out for a highly detailed toy.  This 1988 release is the story of the MADOX, a self-contained personal armored combat machine; in other words, a very plausible looking, technically feasible version of that hoary old staple of Japanese animation, the giant robot.  Developed by Japanese heavy industry under contract with the US Army and the Japanese Self Defense Forces, we first see the MADOX in action as it defeats three heavy tanks in fierce combat. The American tank commander Kilgore wants a rematch, but MADOX’s test pilot Kusomoto, who is naturally a sexy Japanese woman with orange hair and a tight combat suit, isn’t interested.  The MADOX is crated up and put on a truck to be sent to the US HQ in Tokyo

After Tokyo’s bad drivers cause the truck to crash, the crated-up MADOX winds up in an auto repair shop.  Teenage greasemonkey Kouji takes it home to spend the afternoon messing with the whatever-it-is before he meets his girlfriend that night.  So he puts the MADOX on, which by the way was shipped while in “scramble mode”, and before he knows it the thing is rocketing through the Tokyo streets, out of control, with the JSDF and the US Army in hot pursuit.

Now Kouji has to dodge Kusomoto who’s in MADOX-02, he’s under attack from Col. Kilgore riding a cute little articulated tank, the skies are full of Apache attack helicopters – and he’s got to meet his girlfriend atop the NSR Building before she leaves forever!!  What’s a Japanese teenager to do?

What follows is standard-issue anime-style urban property destruction, replete with authentic otaku-approved guns & ammo and a mysterious lack of civilian casualties.  You remember what high-tech war is like – lots of expensive precision machinery operated by skilled, highly trained professional technicians, waged far away from noncombatants, and not much at all like the real thing.  For all its fetishization of military hardware, Madox-01 is as much of a fantasy as the dumbest, most outlandish transforming robot cartoon. Which, by the way, is UFO Diapollon. Or maybe Magnetic Robo Ga-Keen.

The theme of military action destroying an unwitting civilian Tokyo has been visited in the world of anime many times, most notably by Hayao Miyazaki in Lupin III episode #155, “Farewell Lovely Lupin”, where the spectacle of tanks and artillery blasting away at Tokyo landmarks was shown to have terrible consequences. There’s no such moralizing here in Madox, where the full panoply of warfare is unleashed with total casualties being, um, one.

Of course, expecting any kind of editorial position from a 40-minute OVA is probably asking too much, but jeez, the guys who made this video lived within a subway ride of some of the heaviest firepower on that side of the globe, and you’d think they had some sort of opinion about it other than, “boy, isn’t this stuff cool.”  Then again, this was the 1980s; destruction without context was just the way things were done back then.

Giant shoulders, suspenders, and a wimped-out synthesizer soundtrack constantly remind the viewer that he is back in the days of Max Headroom and New Coke.  Tamura Hideki’s character designs reach a nadir of sorts in Kusomoto; her giant forehead and weirdly angled chin resemble nothing so much as the specter of perennial TV game show guest Dorothy Kilgallen.  ARTMIC’s  animation is naturally obsessive and detailed in scenes containing military ordinance, and surprisingly inept with the human figure; there are some rather basic animation errors towards the end of Madox-01 that show us exactly where the studio’s mind was.

The English dub, by Swirl, isn’t really anything special; there’s not a lot of dialog in this OVA to begin with, and what we do get is rendered competently but without flash. Subtitles include details on what “N.B.C.” warfare means, and suffice to say we’re not talking Leno versus Letterman. There are two Japanese language tracks, one with English subtitles and another with minimal subtitles, a nice touch for those conversant with the language.

Further evidence as to what floats Madox-01’s boat is evident in the ten-minute accompanying featurette, a live-action documentary look at the JSDF’s heavy hitters circa 1988.  Apache helicopters, tanks, howitzers, rocket launchers, recoilless rifles, and other crowd-pleasers are shown at the Mt. Fuji proving grounds, blasting helpless paper targets into oblivion as we’re shown the real-life versions of all those models in Godzilla films. It’s an interesting look at Japan’s defense-only military during the height of cold-war bubble-economy budgets.

Madox-01’s place in AnimEigo history is confirmed with another extra, a Q&A session with CEO Robert Woodhead that reveals, among other things, that for their first release he chose Madox over Project A-Ko. Another Q&A with audio director Eric Tomosunas of Swirl Recordings & Film isn’t quite as interesting.  The commentary track features Eric and several of the lead Madox voice talent.  Early on diverges from commenting on Madox to a round-table discussion on what it’s like to dub Japanese cartoons in general;  interesting, but not anything that hasn’t happened at every anime convention ever.

As an historical artifact, this 15th anniversary edition of Madox-01 is about as classy a package as you’re going to get for a 40-minute, otherwise forgotten OVA.  It’s a relic from the early days of direct-to-video animation, and much like its counterparts from those days, isn’t a bad piece of anime for an evening’s rental.  There’s something to be said for a short, self-contained story with enough action and suspense to keep itself going for 40 minutes.  You’re not asked for a long investment of time, there aren’t legions of characters to keep track of or a backstory to research; just put it on the TV and enjoy watching the stuff blow up. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Class Of '85

In September I presented this piece at Anime Weekend Atlanta. Thirty years back (!!), I was part of Atlanta’s local anime club, making library meeting rooms a welcoming place for anime fans. I was a teenager at the time; no, I’m not THAT old.

Thirty years ago Japanese anime fandom in the United States was a liminal beast, in transition from a centralized fan club model to a loosely connected clutch of fiefdoms, waiting for technology to catch up with our ideas.  For many, 1985 was the pivotal year.

 Who was part of this “Class Of ’85?”  Where did they come from, what did they do? Their childhood was spent watching Speed Racer or Battle Of the Planets or Star Blazers. Teen years found them in comic-con dealers rooms or in the back row at the local Star Trek or Dr Who clubs, asking questions about Japanese animation. They’d find other interested fans, they’d learn about anime clubs in far-away places like California or Texas or Ohio, and finally they’d start their own.

They were the latest in a series of anime fan surges that had been washing over North America repeatedly since the early 1960s, each fed in turn by syndication of Astro Boy, Kimba, Gigantor, Marine Boy, Prince Planet, Tobor The Eighth Man, and Speed Racer, sometimes Princess Knight or a UHF television broadcast of Jack And the Witch. All this foreign TV input coalesced into fandom in the late 70s, when Japanese-language UHF began broadcasting superrobots and when home video technology reached the point where such broadcasts could be replayed over and over again to audiences of fans. These “Japanimation” fans would gather in LA, SF and NYC to watch poorly subtitled TV cartoons and 16mm prints of Astro Boy episodes; and they’d form the first Japanese animation fan group, the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization (C/FO).

Sandy Frank’s iteration of Tatsunoko’s Gatchaman, Battle Of The Planets, began syndication in September of 1978. BOTP fans would shortly start the second national anime group to come to any sort of prominence, the Battle Of The Planets Fan Club. Organized in early 1979 by Ohio’s Joey Buchanan, the BOTP FC would be active through the mid 1980s, with outreach via classified ads in Starlog. 

BOTP Fan Club newsletters (thanks to G.)
Star Blazers, the American version of Space Battleship Yamato, would air in September of 1979; it inspired still more fans, clubs, newsletters, and even the first Star Blazers-themed anime conventions. For those hooked at home or converted via anime screenings at local comic & Star Trek shows,  the BOTP, the Star Blazers club and the C/FO became the next stop for learning more about “Japanimation.”

Our Class Of ’85 spent 1984 taping episodes of Voltron from local TV, wishing for Star Blazers re-runs, waiting to hear back from that anime club they contacted after they found their flyer at the local comic con, and finally taking matters into their own hands. They’d find a few fellow fans with enough Japanese animation on videotape to reasonably entertain an audience for five or six hours and were crazy enough to volunteer to do all the work of hauling televisions and VCRs and boxes of tapes, and somebody would find a space they could meet once a month. Repeat in cities across the US and Canada: anime club.

C/FO Magazine, the national club's publication
When Robotech - Harmony Gold’s localization of Tatsunoko’s Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada - made its syndicated TV debut in the fall of 1985, “Japanimation” fandom was already in place and ready for its close-up, Mr DeMille.  Newly minted anime fans would learn of the Macross feature film, they’d find out that their favorite arcade game “Cliff Hanger” was assembled from a couple of Lupin III feature films, that there was an entire slew of Japanese cartoons about alien high school students and vampire hunters and mercenary fighter pilots and teenage trouble consultants and ESP policemen, that there was already two and a half decades of Japanese animation to get caught up on and more happening all the time.

(I’m using “class of 85” here as glib shorthand for the whole 1984-1987 time frame. 1985 was when our local anime fans got together but meetings didn’t get regular until ‘86. 1987 was our busiest year and the winter of 1988-89 was when our club, like many other C/FO affiliated clubs, fractured beyond repair. Anyway my high school yearbook with Julia Roberts’ photo is from 1985, so “Class Of 1985” it becomes. )
now showing at your local anime club meeting
Get comfortable. Anime club meetings lasted for hours, with a mix of films, TV episodes, and OVAs showing on the main television for as long as possible. Titles screened would typically be in Japanese without benefit of subtitles, though there was a thriving market in photocopied English synopsis guides describing who was doing what to whom. Occasionally a more fluent (or delusional) member would appoint himself facilitator and provide running commentary, which would degenerate into a crowd of people attempting to top each other’s humorous pre-MST3K commentary. Members would socialize in the back of the room or in the hall, play RPG games, draw fan artwork, sell each other anime merchandise they’d picked up and didn’t want, build model kits, and generally display future anime-con behavior.

It was a golden age for home video retailers. The dust was still settling from the Format Wars and Sony’s Beta was sinking fast, mortally wounded by VHS in the marketplaces of North America. Early VCR adopters paid $1000-$1500 for the privilege, but 1985 consumers saw top of the line machines retailing for less than $600, with bargain models at around $150 - prices anime fans could afford even on their part-time after-school K-mart salary. The technology itself had progressed from top-loading, wired remote, mono decks to 4-head stereo machines capable of crystal-clear freeze frame images, all the better to view bootlegged Japanese cartoons with.

Print advertising for VCRs circa 1985
Maximizing our AV experience was a must, and this might involve splitting the RF signal to two or more TVs, giving the whole crowd a decent shot at enjoying Fight! Iczer One. Thrift-store receivers and speakers would delight and/or annoy the patrons with a rough approximation of stereo sound. The Class Of ’85 learned that no anime club meeting was complete without a daisy chain of VCRs wired together in the back of the room, distributing that newly acquired tape of Vampire Hunter D down the whirring line of VHS decks with the end of the chain getting the worst of the deal. 

Where did those tapes come from? A thriving Japanese home video market put direct-to video anime releases, feature anime films and the occasional TV collection on the shelves of Tsutaya video rental outlets. Japanese fandom, just beginning to call itself “otaku”, was taping anime off-air, as seen in the fine documentary film “1985 Graffiti Of Otaku Generation”, later exchanging copies of these tapes with US pen pals. Servicemen stationed in Japan spent their garrison pay on blank videotape while fans in American cities with Japanese minorities were learning to haunt the local Japanese neighborhoods in search of video rental stores.

your choice: kidvid or homebrew
America’s own home video boom had even put some licensed releases of Japanese animation into our own video rental stores. Most were aimed at the children’s market, and even the less-kiddified releases would feature annoying English dubbing and the occasional edit for time or objectionable content. Once anime fans had seen uncut anime straight from Japan, kid-vid substitutes would not satisfy. 

Promoting their new anime clubs was also a struggle. Using the internet for wide promotion and informational purposes was still in its infancy; anime clubs had to get the word out using old-fashioned print. Just as cheap home video technology enabled videotape-based TV fandom, cheap photocopy technology was causing a fanzine explosion, and fans would take full advantage of Kinko’s and related outlets.  Xeroxed flyers would promote the club in comic book stores and at fan conventions. Members would be informed of upcoming meetings via a monthly newsletter assembled out of whatever fan art could be harvested and whatever anime news could be gleaned from magazines, the news media, and the wishful thinking of fellow fans. Assembling these newsletters meant an extra day or so of work every month for the club officers, all published without benefit of scanners or graphic design software, just typewriters, white-out, scissors, and glue. Copied, collated, stapled, addressed and stamped, the final product would then be subject to the mercies of the United States Post Office.

getting the word out about Bubblegum Crisis
1985’s anime fans would also suffer the burdens of international economic policy. The Plaza Accords meant a rising yen vs the US dollar. This, and natural supply and demand dynamics, inflated the US prices of anime goods. In Japan, the anime market shrank from the “anime boom” years of 1982-84 even as their “Bubble Economy” swelled preparatory to bursting. 

Happily ignorant of the larger economic forces, the Class Of ‘85’s local clubs kept meeting at its libraries and community centers, publishing its newsletters, screening anime at comic cons and Fantasy Fairs to appreciative crowds and grumbling con organizers, swapping tapes and making road trips and generally living the 80s anime fan lifestyle of pizza, Coca-Cola, and late nights spent copying Project A-Ko over and over. What they lacked in data or tech they made up for in brotherhood; a typical anime club meeting might include a potluck junk-food smorgasbord, a surprise birthday celebration or a post-meeting dinner, with fans from three or four states turning anime club meetings into impromptu anime family reunions.

the Atlanta club in its natural environment
As a chapter of a national organization, the local club had certain obligations to the parent body. In practice these obligations were vaguely defined and generally involved swapping newsletters, tapes and gossip with other chapters. At one point the national C/FO was sending a Yawata-Uma horse (a gaily painted hand carved wooden horse given as a gift on special occasions) from chapter to chapter to be decorated with signatures and mascot illustrations; this arrived, was duly scrawled upon, and delivered to the next link in the chain, perhaps the pinnacle of cooperative achievement for any national anime club. Photos of this horse eventually wound up in the March 1987 issue of Animage, along with pictures of American cosplayers and members of Atlanta’s local club.

Yawata-Uma & fans captured on home video in somebody's basement
What finally happened to the Class of ’85 after the ‘80s ended? The Battle Of The Planets club had long since vanished, while the national Star Blazers club leveraged its reach and became Project A-Kon. The national leadership of the C/FO used parliamentary procedure to reduce what had been 30+ chapters in three nations to a few local Southern California clubs. Former C/FO chapters became sovereign anime-club states charting their own anime club destinies, while other clubs that never bothered with the C/FO kept right on doing what they’d been doing all along. For example; the Anime Hasshin club, by virtue of a lively and regularly-published newsletter, a tape-trading group, and a total lack of interest in hosting meetings or chapters, became a leader in the 90s anime fan community.

join a local anime club today
1990 saw the start of the direct-to-video, uncut, English subtitled localization industry with AnimEigo’s Madox-01. Films like Akira would put Japanese animation into the art-house cinema circuit and finally, into the cultural lexicon as something other than Speed Racer. Local anime clubs began their long slide into irrelevance, faced with Blockbuster’s anime shelves and Genie or Compuserve’s dedicated anime boards. University anime groups, with giant lecture halls, professional video presentation equipment, and a captive audience of bored nerds, sprang up wholly independently of any extant fan networks. The anime club officers of the 1980s were growing up, graduating college, getting married, moving on to careers and lives beyond a monthly appointment to deliver Japanese cartoons to a roomful of fans, some of whom hadn’t bathed or been to the Laundromat in a while. 

They’re still around, that Class Of ’85. You can probably find a few survivors at your local anime con holding forth behind a panel table or on a couch in the hotel lobby, spinning tales of what fandom was like in the days of laser discs and Beta tapes. Some are no longer with us, living on in photographs, the dot matrix print of club newsletters, and in the fond memories of their fellow anime fans.  Others have moved on to the far corners of the Earth or across town, in a world that now recognizes the truth of what they were trying to say three decades ago. Turns out this Japanese animation thing is pretty cool after all.  

so long, Bill.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Anime Weekend Atlanta is 21

Next weekend is the 21st annual Anime Weekend Atlanta.  Back when we started the show in 1995 we never figured it would get as big as it has or last as long as it has, but we've been pleasantly surprised every year at its continued popularity and growth. And as usual the second half of my summer has been occupied by arranging and coordinating and editing and photoshopping and emailing and generally getting ready for the show. Add to that a late summer trip to NYC and all the general activities of life, and you can easily see why posting here at Let's Anime has been very light of late. Well, I promise that the minute I get done with AWA I'll be right back here working on new and interesting Let's Anime posts for you!  In the meantime here's what I'm up to next weekend.

Thursday night it's time for AWA's popular yard-sale swap-meet garage-sale event, the Super Happy Fun Sell! The room swarms with speedy bargain hunting as fans clean out their closets of anime and manga collectibles to begin the cycle of consumerism anew. Bring money!

On Friday, Darius "Fandom Post" Washington and myself and other AWA veterans will take you through the past of 21 years ago as we started the AWA anime-con locomotive into forward, seemingly unstoppable motion. Find out what was shown in the video rooms, how many Sailor Moons were in the costume contest, what the deal was with that so-called 'tennis court', and the final fate of AWA's first hotel, the infamous Castlegate!

Later Friday night it's time once again for Anime Hell, the popular flippety-floppy confuse-o-vision event that promises to astonish and entertain. It's preceded at 8pm by Neil "Dog Soldier" Nadelman's Totally Lame Anime and followed at 12:08 by Midnight Madness.

On Saturday, the Corn Pone Flicks gang is getting back together to spend a couple of hours taking you through their three seminal 1990s anime-culture documentaries, "Bad American Dubbing".  See how annoyed American fans would work themselves into a frenzy of outrage at the liberties taken with their favorite Japanese cartoons - dubbing and editing atrocities that ironically were the first exposure many of these same fans had to Japanese animation in the first place! It's a time travelling trip of self-important mockery with Bad American Dubbing.

Then on Sunday it's another time for reflection. We'll look back at what anime fandom was like thirty years ago in the dark days of 1985.  How did anime fandom begin in the time before the internet? What sort of activities did these stone-age fans occupy their pre-Nintendo days with?  And what was the difference between VHS and Beta, anyway? Join us for Class Of '85.

That's what's in store for you at AWA! If you haven't already pre-registered, tickets are available on-site for all four days of anime-fan action, so there's really no reason to miss this one.  See ya there!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

top 11 autos named after classic anime characters

Did you know that many automobiles were named after classic Japanese animation characters?  It’s a fact! No no, don’t check up on it, just trust us, automakers around the world chose to name their vehicles after cartoons. Happened all the time and nobody knows why. Were Detroit automakers secretly attending C/FO meetings? Were there legions of anime fans in the ranks of car companies around the world? Science will never learn the answer. In the meantime, we here at Let’s Anime put together the top eleven automobiles that were named after classic anime heroes and heroines. Can you guess which will be number one?

 #3- Windstar, the mid-sized Ford van, had a reputation for safety – meaning, while it was in the shop having the engine or transmission replaced, you aren’t out driving it, and you can’t get safer than that. On the other hand, Windstar from Jim Terry’s localization of Toei’s Planet Robo Danguard Ace was a hot-blooded, decidedly unsafe super robot pilot who had something to prove to his commander, the mysterious Captain Mask.

 #16- The curves and handling, the sleek lines, the spirited movement and the classy chassis all make Nova a delight to behold. And the car’s not bad either! Seriously though, this classic Chevy car was born in the ‘60s as a “compact” but with the addition of a V8 became a favorite on the dragstrip, and with the ’68 third generation, Nova became the muscle car we still see cruising the streets, until a mid 70s redesign left it boring and boxy. The Nova imprint was later used by Chevy to rebrand Toyota Corollas in the mid 1980s, producing a line of functional, seemingly unkillable compacts. Seriously; we set ours on FIRE and still got another 100,000 miles out of it. Similarly, the anime character Nova is both a fully trained medical professional AND a valuable member of the Argo’s bridge crew, handling the all-celestial radar, surviving Gamilons and Comet Imperials and Bolar Commonwealth attacks with ease. Unsure if she was ever set on fire.

#37- The Astro was a rear-wheel drive mid-sized van produced from 1985 to 2005 by Chevrolet, noted for its trucklike hauling ability and its Spartan, boxlike interior that put efficiency ahead of comfort. The Astro Boy, on the other hand, is a robot boy with 100,000 horsepower created by Dr. Tenma, who once defeated Pluto to become the Greatest Robot In The World.

 #9- Not the album by prog-rockers Asia, nor Ultraman Leo’s twin brother, but the Opel Astra, a line of sporty compacts and mid-sized coupes marketed around the world under a variety of brands including Saturn, Chevrolet, and, in China, as Buick. A new, smaller Astra is set to debut at the Frankfurt auto show in September. Meanwhile in the world of imported Japanese cartoons, namely Star Blazers, Astra was the name given to Queen Starsha’s sister, who was sent to Earth with the plans for the Wave Motion Engine, but sadly who did not survive the journey.

#62.5- Whether you want outer space ESP policemen or economical compact cars, Justy is the brand for you! Subaru’s endearing little three-banger charmed Americans looking for cheap, gas-friendly transportation in the late 80s and early 90s, while Tsuguo Okazaki’s Shonen Sunday manga, later localized in the US and animated as a 1985 OVA, is the melodramatic story of Justy, the space cop with the most powerful ESP powers in the universe, whose awe-inspiring abilities are moderated only by his warm-hearted humanity.

#5- Several cars have been named Aurora – you may be familiar with the 90s Oldsmobile high-end sports sedan marketed with the name, or with the bizarre 1957 concept car produced by a vanity Connecticut auto manufacturer run by a priest and meant to be the safest car ever built, and probably was, as the single prototype kept breaking down on the way to the auto show. Anime fans, on the other hand, can watch the cartoon Princess Aurora go the distance all the way to the center of the galaxy as she led her team of SpaceKeteers on a mission to save the universe, in the series of the same name.

 #4- In the far reaches of outer space, the deadliest man alive is Cobra, the space bandit with the unstoppable Psycho-Gun. Meanwhile on the highways, the deadliest car alive is the Shelby Cobra, the unstoppable combination of big American engine and small European sportscar chassis – also the favorite auto of deadly bird-ninja Condor Joe.

#4 (again)- Pronounce “Ghibli” however you like, the fact is that this Japanese animation studio has produced more Academy-award winning feature films than any other anime production outfit. Spearheaded by the one-two punch of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, they’ve been a museum-building cultural powerhouse for decades. It’s not surprising that automaker Maserati would appropriate this name for that of their mid-sized luxury sedan.

 #88- Speaking of hot desert winds, the boys at Volkswagen will sell you a Scirocco, a six-speed sports coupe that’s sleek yet surprisingly practical. The Gundam villain Paptimus Scirocco, just to contrast, is an evil genius who arrives from distant Jupiter with a master plan to make himself master of the Earth Sphere, as seen in the 1985 animated series Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.

 #13- The anime about the bikini-clad space princess and the hapless Earth boy – no, not THAT anime, but the OTHER anime about the space princess, you know, Outlanders, the Johji Manabe manga that got an early North American release courtesy Studio Proteus and a stunt-casted English dubbed anime? Yeah, that would make a great name for Mitsubishi to use for their smallish, underpowered line of SUVs, I guess.

#7- Need a space navigator or a minivan? The Chevy Venture minivan was produced from 1997-2005. The 2000-2003 models could be "Warner Brothers" customized with WB branding, a DVD player (or VHS deck), classic WB cartoons, and built in child restraints.  And just like Venture the anime character, which is the American name given to Daisuke Shima from Space Battleship Yamato, the ship's navigator and best friend of deputy captain Susumu Kodai, the Venture is a reliable companion for all of life’s journeys, whether to the Greater Magellanic Cloud or to the beach. 

And hey, as of this writing there are two days left in the Kickstarter campaign to publish Shaindle Minuk’s webcomic Element Of Surprise. Why not check it out?

Sticker price does not include tax, tag, and title. Professional driver on closed course. Highway and city mileage may vary. Dealer may not have all makes in all colors. Some conditions may apply. Subject to local, state, and federal laws. Use only as directed.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

pledge your support

As many of you know, when I'm not writing about classic anime here at Let's Anime (which, admittedly, is most of the time), I'm usually working on something at Mister Kitty, which is the website myself and my wife Shain Minuk set up some years back to host our own original comics and to feature attractions like our popular "Stupid Comics" page.  Well, the big news is that Shain has taken the big 21st century crowdfunding step and has started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a deluxe, 268 page collection of her webcomic, The Element of Surprise.  

Described by the comic’s creator as “similar to Starsky and Hutch, only a little less gay”, The Element of Surprise details the relationship between two men, Mark and Ben, in a nameless but crime-ridden city somewhere in America’s “rust belt”.

The Kickstarter campaign has a variety of rewards for pledges that range from $1 to $200. Readers of the webcomic, which updates weekly, have been hoping for a print version for quite some time, and Mister Kitty and Friends have finally responded.

With the help of crowd funding by Kickstarter, Minuk intends to publish the first two story arcs of The Element of Surprise, while a third arc is currently running in weekly updates on the Mister Kitty website. The collected volume of the webcomic will detail the two men in the early stages of their relationship, struggling with their own internal conflicts while facing up against corrupt politicians and various violent miscreants, in a story providing plenty of action and romance.

The Element of Surprise Kickstarter campaign is on until July 17th 2015.  We're hoping to get the word out as far and as wide as possible, and hopefully if this project succeeds it'll be the first of many Mister Kitty print projects, including, who knows? Maybe a print Let's Anime. So check out the Kickstarter, tell your pals, spread the word, and if you can, why not drop a few bucks to help make independent print comics happen?