We're still livin'. Livin' in the eighties! We still fight! Fight in the eighties!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Robot Boy Strikes the US Army! Hold Fast the Sacred Wood Shoes!

What's the standard opening question in nearly every single interview you've ever read with anyone on this side of the Pacific on the subject of anime?  Yeah, me too.

But when anyone asks me when I first got interested in the stuff, I give them an answer that, due to accident of military deployment (my father's), generally raises eyebrows, along with a healthy dose of "no, shutthefuckup."

How long have I been interested in anime?

This long:

Yep, those are mine.  My mother tells me she paid fifty cents for 'em.

My father was in the US Army and was deployed to Okinawa in 1964.  Like a lot of good soldiers, he dragged his family (in this case, my mother and I) with him.  My first memories were of fishing the rice paddies, catching honey bees in jars, and, yes watching Tetsuwan Atom in Japanese.  Or I think it was Japanese, the series was translated and released around the world by 1965, so it could have been in English on Okinawa since it was still under US control then.  I was a whole five years old at the time, so I probably didn't care a whole lot.  My mother also tells me we used to watch Gunsmoke in Japanese, but if you tuned to a particular radio channel, you'd get the translation in English while you watched.  Oh, the things the US military did to keep the troops happy.  But now part of me really wants to hear what James Arness as Matt Dillon sounded like in Japanese.  I'm thinking Kenshiro with a badge and a gun.

No, seriously, if Abby Sciuto from NCIS ran these puppies under a microscope I'm sure she'd find dead Gibson toe tissue on Astro Boy's face.

I really don't know how, some forty-five years later, I still have these things - but I do.  It's not like they take up a lot of space, but it's difficult to believe my parents didn't throw them away sometime during one of our thirty-five moves since Okinawa in '65.  Kind of a miracle, actually. Of course, once I got heavily into anime fandom in the early '80's, there was no way in hell these little well-worn getas of my youth were going anywhere.  Along with the green stuffed frog my great-grandmother made for me, they'll probably end up in my coffin.  Along with all the Hokuto no Ken anime cels. And the "All About the Man" Jump Special. And the Queen Emeraldas manga.  And the Catseye manga. And...aw, hell, I guess I better not plan on dying.  It'd be too expensive.

And, no, you can't have 'em.  They wouldn't fit you anyway.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Paper Bag Attacks With Beer Advertising! Fight, Videotape Gods, Fight!

So I'm listening to a football game Sunday.  That's not unusual in and of itself, I've always liked football.  Half of my family is Cajun from deep in the heart of swamp country - well, okay, it's actually Opelousas which is actually a fairly large city now, but they did start out in Ville Platte, which is two stone's throw away from Chicot State Park, which is about as swampy as you get and still be near civilization.  Anyway, the Saints are playing and Saints fans have got to be just this side of Cleveland Browns fans as far as raw deals go.  On one hand, the Browns were actually good at one time waaaay back then.  On the other hand, they never took to wearing paper bags over their heads.  On the other hand, Saints fans have never actually lost their team.  On yet another hand, Browns fans haven't almost lost their city.  So, I'd say they're both about on the same level when it comes to how much it sucks to be a fan of their respective teams.  Unfortunately for Browns fans, this year there's no real argument over who has it worse.

Saints fan or Mike Cogliandro? Hmm.

The Saints are at least guaranteed of a first round bye as I type this. If the Vikings lose tonight, they'll have home field all the way through the playoffs, which is pretty much what they need, 'cause Cleveland has actually been playing better than the Saints over the past few games, and the the secondary coach of the Saints needs to put in a shout for Scotty or Tochiro, 'cause I think that even though they're both fictional engineers that don't know squat about American football, the only way this bunch is going to get it together by the playoffs is either by magic or by having, as my old buddy Brian Sutton (aka Brian-O) used to say, "the writers on their side." 

Man, that was a long-ass meandering introduction for a post that really has nothing to do with football.  I really need to work on this blogging thing.

Anyway, I'm listening to this game and on comes this commercial for Bud Light that I know, I just KNOW I've heard before. Except the words are different.  Way different, like something from a past lifetime. But I can swear this is what I hear:

Bud Light Presents: Real Men of Genius
Real men of genius!

Today we salute you, Mr. Anime Videotape Wizard Guy
Mr. Anime Videotape Wizard Guy!

Knowing the future of anime fandom itself rests on your sweaty shoulders, you haul your ten pound mechanized war machine and multiple boxes of acetate ammo in and out of hotels and up and down flights of stairs, all for the joy of knowing some other guy five states away is going to enjoy his fourth generation copy of Magical Idol Pastel Yumi.
I think I threw my back out!

Subsisting on nothing but Twinkies and expensive hotel soda, you sit in darkness at the back of a video room full of fanboys for hours at a time because no one, but no one, touches your equipment but you.
Hands off the cartoons, fatboy!

Your nights are spent in your hotel room at three am in the morning valiantly struggling with the hotel television set connections, while trying to explain to the drooling fan sitting crosslegged on the floor why you won't spend the next three hours editing out the three Touch episodes just so he can have a full six hours worth of Gundam Double Zeta.
You'll take what you get and like it!

 So crack open an ice cold Bud Light, oh keeper of the holy cartoons, because when you finally pass out from exhaustion, you can rest well knowing that someone, somewhere, is taping over your hard work to make space for episodes of Thundercats.*
Mr. Anime Videotape Wizard Guy!

Your anime fu is no match for my cuteness attack!  All your female population are belonging to us!

*Not meaning to pick on Thundercats here, but it's just what came to mind. One night I got this call at about midnight from a guy on the West Coast (he'd probably just forgotten about the time differencial between California and San Antonio - that kind of thing happened quite often and I tried my best to never take offense). He was desperate because a tape I'd made for him a couple months back had been taken by his sister and she taped Thundercats over it. He didn't seem nearly so upset that she took it as much as he did what she did with it. Anyway, turns out two episodes on the tape had already been scheduled for his local club meeting that weekend and he was wondering if I could recopy the tape and get it to him by then. That kind of thing happened regularly. The "please copy this in a hurry" part, not the Thundercats part.

At least I really hope that didn't happen regularly.

"You are already dead to my kung fu. You just refuse to admit it"

Beware! The Bones of Pharaoh will Take Your Life! Embrace The Power of the Pasties!

T'was doing some surfing recently and came across the wiki entry for Project A-Kon in Dallas and I tried hard to remember if I was at the first or second one or both.  I know I was at least one of those first two, nominally as a guest (because of the Captain Harlock comic).  Of course, back in those days, most of us in San Antonio anime fandom were treated as guests by the good folk up there 'cause that's just the way they rolled back then.  We slept on couches, on the floor or wherever there was space, usually waking up a few times each night to change the videos that were being dubbed  for this or that fan.  Things probably haven't changed all that much since then, except for the dubbing thing, of course.  Now I imagine all that work (if you can call it "work") gets done over Al Gore's marvelous invention...

Anyway, that got me thinking about all the conventions I've been to.  They all tend to run together, but a few stand out.  If I can keep up my enthusiasm for this blogging thing, it'll certainly be a topic I'll come back to over and over again.

Cause I basically loved going to conventions.  Loved 'em.  Even the old Larry Lankford conventions were a high point of my existence back during that third life.  But the convention thing itself started during life number two and it had nothing to do with anime or manga.  That was all comics and RPGs. 

I lived in Houston back during the late '70s.  I want to say that, by population, Houston was either the fourth or fifth largest city in the US back then.  And it had a total of three, count 'em, three comic book shops.  And two of those were right across the street from one another on Bissonnet Road.  Which was actually fine by me because that way I only had to take one bus there and one bus back.  "Roy's Memory Shop" went out of buisiness a bit after, but "Third Planet" moved to a larger location and stayed open for quite a few years after I moved to San Antonio in '80.  The third, "Camelot Comics" was downtown and a bitch to get to for a penniless kid like me, though I did manage to score about ten issues of the New X-Men starting with #94 from them a year or two before the prices shot through the roof because of...well, if you've ever been a real X-Men fan, you know the story.  Never did manage to get the Giant-Sized origin issue, damn it.

If you figure a city the size of Houston had only three comic book shops, you don't have to be a genius to come to the conclusion that conventions were few and far between.  I can remember going to two while living there and the second of those wasn't even in a hotel.  But that first one...

...yeah, I can't even remember the name of the damned thing. But it was in an old hotel near the Medical Center, just south of downtown, near Rice University. The hotel had a lighting system that made the whole place look green after sundown, so I kinda want to say it was The Shamrock Hotel, but I dunno. Anyway, it was my first real comic book convention, a real two-day affair, and I was fucking stoked.  My plan (or at least the one I told my parents) was to hang out there Saturday, catch the last bus home, then get back there for Sunday.  Yeah, like that worked, right?

I get there early Saturday, stand in line with the rest of the sweaty people (this is, well, Houston), pay my money, get my badge and run quickly inside to scope out the best stuff my forty bucks would get me before all the other goofs got it all.  Only problem was that, as it turned out, dealers trade with other dealers before the doors even open and there were so few dealers from out of town there that after looking around for about an hour, there was really nothing there I wanted that I couldn't get from the three shops in town.  Man, talk about disappointing.

But, hey, it got better.  This was, as the kids now might say, a failsafe environment.  The film room was scheduled to show Barbarella and Flesh Gordon that night.  Big screen.  16mil.  Followed by 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The only drawback was all that teenaged fanboy bait was half a day away and, frankly, there wasn't a whole lot else going on.  They had a dealer's room (I think maybe there were a total of ten retailers there, if that many) a gaming room that doubled as a panel room, and the film room.  I don't even think they had any guests, or if they did, it wasn't anyone I was remotely interested in hearing or meeting.  I had pretty much nothing to look forward to over the next couple of hours, except running across the street to Burger King to eat.  Hey, I know what you're thinkin', but at my house back in the day, Whoppers were fine dining.

Teenaged Fanboy Heaven

So, I'm walking around what essentially is a three-room con and eventually I stumble into the gaming room, out of boredom more than anything else. Back then, they didn't sell tabletop gaming stuff in comic book shops. Hell, for the most part, they didn't sell gaming supplies anywhere but in gaming shops. In Houston, anyway. So I'd never seen a twenty-sided die, much less an eight-sided die or twelve-sided die, or the dreaded four-sided die. Do any of you actually remember ever trying to roll a four-sided die?  I don't blame you. I wouldn't want to admit it either. I don't think it's actually possible to "roll" a four-sided die.  It's basically a pyramid that you toss onto a table and, unlike the rest of the multi-faced dice some nerdboy invented to make money off suckers gamers, you read the number on the bottom.  I swear, I actually paid good money for those damned things at one time.  I can't believe I'm actually writing about this shit. I'd almost rather admit to all the times I paid money to get into Houston adult theaters, but that's just creepy, so I'll be pleased to be shutting up about it now.

You tell me. WTF?

Anyway, this gaming room has four or five tables, but only two are being used at the moment.  The loudest game in the room, AD&D, is being run by an extremely large, but exceedingly jovial man named Roger Lawter.  Being the curious sort and always drawn towards the sound of people having loads o' fun, I  hang around the table for a while.  More fun.  I look at my con schedule.  Nothing interesting in the film room. More fun. The table takes a break and Roger looks up at me, smiles, and hands me his hardback copy of the AD&D Player's Handbook. I grab a nearby chair, sit down and after about five minutes, I'm grabbing a character sheet and rolling those silly dice.  More fun.  My wood elf makes five straight "secret door" checks, something Roger tells me has never happened before in one of his games.  Now that  I look back, I'm pretty sure he was lying, but it worked.  The forty bucks I brought for comics ends up in the pocket of the only dealer selling gaming stuff and I end up sticking a Player's Handbook and a few other gaming essentials in my bag.  Not to mention wasting a good deal of the next decade of my life.  Thanks a fucking lot, Roger, wherever you are.

I kid. I didn't have any friends my age back then, so it became my social life such as it was; and I don't regret any of it.  Well, okay, maybe the four-sided die thing...

God, I think I still have this somewhere. And, given that gamers are gamers, I put my name in it.  Now, honestly, what's more embarrassing?  To have this thing stolen or have your girlfriend find you put your name in it?

In any case, Roger was one of those rare gamers who did have a social life, which included going home to the wife, so he packed up just in time for me to run over and grab my seat for the opening credits of Barbarella.  Now, for those of you who have seen it, the opening credits of the Roger Vadim camp classic are pretty much the main reason to see the film.  Well, okay, the orgasmitron, excuse me, the "Ex-sex-sive Machine" scene was pretty cool also, but that's more something that appeals to the mind.  Yeah.

"You know, you could get a vibrator for under ten bucks back in '68"

Unfortunately, everyone else in the room knew about the whole "credits" thing too and the front rows were overflowing with sweaty fanboys, so I was relegated to somewhere in the middle of the room.  Which wasn't actually all that bad because did I mention the film was an actual film?  As in big picture projected against a large white screen?  With pops and crackles and multiple reels so they had to actually stop the film in segments to reload the next reel? Yeah, I know, that sounds really primative, doesn't it?  But it's all well worth it when Jane Fonda's boobies float around in front of you at several times their normal size.

I haven't seen the film in three decades, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't hold up all that well.  Come to think of it, Jane's boobies probably haven't held up that well either. But man, they still do look smokin' hot when  I close my eyes...oh, to be nineteen again.

Flesh Gordon, on the other hand, that just rocks.  Still.  You have your porn, then you have your porn, if you know what I mean, but Flesh Gordon is just in a class by itself.  It just is. From the Sex Ray (now a staple among written porn fetishists) to the Penisaurus to the Great God Porno (whom the crew lovingly named "Nesuahyrrah" - Harryhausen spelled backwards), it's just great fun from beginning to end.  Is it gay to admit that you once thought that having a pair of power pasties of your very own would be cool? I'm not sure,  but I think that maybe my memory of this one is clouded by the fact that no one in the film room got carded.  And there were kids far younger than me in that audience.  Did I mention that I fucking love conventions?

"Stand back! I have the power pasties and I know how to use them!

I'd never seen 2001 before that con, but I was looking forward to it.  Or, so I kept telling myself.  Unfortunately, between the understandable excitement of a kid at his first con,  Jane Fonda's incredible boobies, the awesomeness of Flesh Gordon's influence on my tender adolescent libido and the fact that it was almost midnight, I fell asleep somewhere after the guy from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin shows up and didn't wake back up until HAL had killed everyone off.  Needless to say, I didn't catch a bus home.  Lucky for me, the dudes who ran security were pretty cool.  Or maybe they were just used to it.  There were at least five other guys in the same predicament (except I have a feeling that at least two of them were stoned out of their minds).  Come to think of it, the security guys weren't all there either, if you know what I mean.  The smell was pretty strong.  Ah, yes, the seventies...

Maybe I got a bit of a contact high, because I don't remember much of what went on Sunday.  I know Roger showed back up and I cracked open my AD&D book and played some more.  Spent the last of my money on more gaming crap I probably never used after that - though the little miniature pewter elf was a better representation of my character than the grey-and-white speckled twelve-sided die I'd used the day before. Fuck, I still can't believe I'm writing this shit down.

Oh, well, I  guess your first convention is kind of like your first lay.  Well, okay, maybe not. If I had to write about my first lay, it'd take up half the space. 

And, to this day, I've still not seen 2001 all the way through.

This isn't from the con I attended, but you get the general idea.  For more pics and stuff from other Houston Cons, this is a great website.

My Charles Jones Bunny is Deadly to Your Funny Bone! Die, Duck, Die!

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I grew up watching cartoons during the Nixon era.

I grew up watching cartoons.  Didn't make a whole lot of distinction between where they came from.  The only thing I cared about was whether or not they were funny.  I didn't like unfunny cartoons.  I don't think I was a whole lot different from most younger children in that way.  Kids like me are the reason that Scooby-Do had dumb chase scenes and Casey Kasem is still making a living saying crap like "Zoinks!" at the ripe old age of ninety.

Strange thing is, even as a kid, I never exactly knew what I was going to find funny.  The Banana Splits were funny in a way that The Monkeys weren't.  I think I can safely say I was in the definite minority there.  I pretty much found cartoon violence funny. Almost always. When Bugs talked Elmer into shooting Daffy it was funny.  When Daffy talked Elmer into shooting Daffy, it was funny.  When Daffy talked Elmer into shooting Daffy for the second time, it was funny.  When Daffy talked Elmer into shooting him for the third time, it's just fucking cartoon nirvana.

If you don't find this shit funny, this isn't the blog for you.

I watched this stuff growing up every morning.  Looney Tunes were sprinkled liberally on the local network channels along with episodes of Captain Kangaroo and locally produced children's programming.  Seeing ping-pong balls raining down on the good Captain was snicker funny, but couldn't touch the charred face of Daffy Duck as he explained to Bugs that Elmer was "still lurking about" and that he wouldn't go back up to re-check.  "No more for me, I'm driving."  Chuck Jones was my God even back then, though I didn't know his name.

This was the early '70s.  But by the time the decade ended, the Tunes got their balls cut off, "7-Zark-7" subbed for death, destruction and mayhem in Battle of the Planets, and even the producers of Star Blazers were dubbing in dialogue like "Good thing he made it out alive" to cover the death of characters. What changed, exactly? And when?  And how the hell did I miss it?

"Should I blow up now, or wait 'till I get home?"

The Bloody Boot of Apathy Will Not Step on the Righteous Soul! Witness the Fatal Rebirth!