Steve Harrison bait.
You say pot-a-to head, I say pot-ah-to head
As I mentioned a couple blog posts ago, one of the more interesting things about being dead to anime for fifteen years is that even the old stuff is new again. What with all the newly translated anime released in various formats, it's almost like being totally re-introduced to series I watched in raw form way back then. Unfortunately, that's not always a happy process. The anime hasn't really changed, but I most certainly have. My tastes have been - refined - for lack of a better term. This is especially true when it comes to anime that has been dubbed into English because, well, let's face it, the approach that American voice actors and directors bring to the product is not exactly the same as the Japanese sensibilities. Not only do I have to fight "the pre-conceived notions versus reality" battle that I touched upon in that earlier blog, but I also have to start wondering exactly how accurate the translation is and what kind of effort the American crew put forth. It's tough to decide how much of your bile or applause should be directed at the source material or at the American biz that put together the finished product. It's one of the reasons I've always preferred my anime subtitled. It's just much less distracting not to have to worry about that extra level between you and what the original folks put into the production.
I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the anime I've bothered to watch in the last ten years or so. Most of it was, as those who know me can probably guess, Hokuto no Ken related. A friend of mine in San Antonio manages a comic book store that kept up with a lot of the American releases, so I was lucky in that regard. I saw the ADV dub of the Cursed City trilogy (though I could've sworn it wasn't in English, probably JAMM again), three of the Legend of the True Savior videos on youtube, the two Queen Emeraldas ADV episodes, and the Maetel Legend release. Yeah, okay, I love me some Emeraldas too.
Yeah, yeah, don't they always say the book was better?
Bottom line, with all the stuff out there now, I really didn't watch a whole lot. Part of that was because I was using dial-up until a year ago so I couldn't watch video online even if I wanted to (hell, I didn't even have television for nearly a decade, how perverse is that?), but mostly it was out of pure disinterest. I'd go into Bob's shop and make a point of checking out the new DVD releases, but nothing really caught my eye. So, now everything is new. Even if it's old. A target rich environment. So...where to start?
The numerous anime blogs that have sprung up here there and everywhere haven't been a whole lot of help. They mostly seem to me to be written in a different language. And, to be honest, they probably are. Being an older nerd, I'm not up on the newer nerd tongue, so I'm slowly working on the whole translation business. I've already mentioned the whole "moe" thing - hell the word "otaku" wasn't even in our lexicon back in '85 or so. As soon as I get the whole "moe" thing down, I'm gonna try and tackle "fanservice," though I'm not even sure if everyone agrees on "otaku" after 20 freakin' years, so I dunno how long I'll have to wait to get a consensus on the newer slang. I remember when name translation fights were all the rage, now we've graduated to more important things like whether or not underaged lolis with WW2 wings on their legs instead of pants is suitable stuff for general consumption. WhooHoo! Progress! Yeah, I'm just waiting for Bill O'Reilly to get ahold of an episode of that. Or Chuck Yeager's relatives. Meh, it's rough getting older. I start thinking about shit that never would've entered my mind thirty years back...
Anyway, I just didn't feel like jumping right into the newer stuff, so I did what I usually do when searching around for something to watch. Youtube. By that time, I'd already seen the rest of the Hokuto no Ken Legend OVAs (for the record, I seem to have enjoyed them more than many HnK fans I correspond with), done my two or three passes down memory lane by hitting the opening and closing credits '80's style thing (man, Dunbine, L-Gaim, Giant Gorg, and Xabungle STILL rock after almost thirty years), and even sampled couple of music videos.
Same Gorg time, Same Gorg channel!
One thing led to another to another to another, until I finally came across this one which I really liked. Yeah, I'm an old softie. Even after twenty years or so, I managed to place most of the Tochiro and Emeraldas cuts, but there were a few I'd obviously missed out on. Luckily for me, the person who put together this one was kind enough to list the credits at the end of the vid. After another half hour or so of googling, I set aside half a day or so to commit to something I'd actually heard about, but never even seen more than a a few seconds of.
Hey, kids, Harlock, Tochiro, Emeraldas and...some other guys.
Man, it does this manga oldtimer's heart good to know that, along with gratuitous panty shots, shower scenes, and other timeless tropes of anime, Matsumoto potato heads and machine men with pointless dials all over their bodies have somehow managed to survive into the new century. All is right with the world. I felt like opening a bottle of fresh spring water to celebrate, but settled for a glass of red wine. A tall glass. I'm not usually one to watch anime with a buzz, but it's sort of become a tradition with the Matsumoto-inspired shows. That way I feel like I'm really down with the characters. If no one's popped a cork or poured a shot within the first two episodes or so, you know you're in the wrong anime. Plus, it helps get over the English dubbing. Because the Harlock anime have had special problems with this in the past. I can see some of you out there nodding. Yep. Somehow, I always hope the next one will be different in this regard, but I'm always disappointed. Just comes with the territory.
I've always figured that the whole "voice acting" thing was probably more a problem for those of us who watched the raw material for years and years before the dubbed stuff was available. The obvious exceptions being BoTP and Star Blazers, of course. But speaking for myself, the standards were set early on. The exaggerated "drama" voices were an essential part of what made anime different for me. Hearing Captain Harlock speaking with a "normal" tone in a "normal" register just doesn't do it for me. In this particular case, I understand that Steven Blum is an accomplished voice actor. Hell, I see he even voiced Wolverine for the latest X-Men toon, and I loved the hell out of that particular job. But he's just not Captain Harlock here. He's just another voice attached to an icon. But I understand the whole "dramatic reading" thing is just never going to fly here in America, so I'll be pleased to be shutting up about it now.
Seriously, where do they find these voice actor people, anyway?
I'd never heard of these main characters having appeared in any other medium (unless there's a Matsumoto manga I'm unaware of), so I was left to assume that the source material was originally a special project of some kind. The wiki article is unhelpful in this regard, the best I could come up with was yet another reference by Dave Merrill - hello, anyone ELSE out there doing articles on old school material?! - to a video game or somesuch. But enough of that, I tracked down the series, and set out to watch it on its own terms, something which I'm really not used to doing because...well, because I still have memories of the raw versions of most of Matsumoto's shows and it's rare that something comes out that I'm totally unfamilar with in that regard.
So, as I sat down in front of the computer, I was quite prepared to either love it to death, or want to slit my wrists. A couple hours later, I was actually kind of surprised that I came away somewhere in the mushy middle on this one.
To begin with, I wasn't prepared for the incredibly mellow opening. Luckily for me, I'd tanked up on caffeine beforehand, because I knew I had at least five or six more of these to get through between the actual episodes. Evidently, the instrumental has an actual vocal version, which I suppose is available on the soundtrack. I really wish they'd used that one here, because I've been conditioned to think that anime openings meant actual words being sung in a language I couldn't understand. In the case of Mastumoto series, this meant guys with deep voices, singing manly songs. Heck, when SSX came out, they released a whole album of manly man songs to go with it. Even Queen 1000 had a guy with a deep voice singing the opening song and Harlock wasn't even IN that one. But, what the hell, speaking of millenium, it's the new one, so I'll go with it. So long as the main character isn't as wimpy as the theme song...
"You talkin' ta me?"
No worries there. At least once we get past the first episode, anyway. After the opening five minutes or so of understandable angst over the way the machine people made Earth into a giant mud puddle in a war, and a good bit of "blame the guy who wasn't around" from the survivors, Warrius Zero is feeling like his parents had a precog flash of this very moment before they named him. In addition, he's got this nifty family finder gadget that lets him (and the entire English-speaking audience) know in no uncertain terms that his wife and kid are "Lost." One quick cut later, we're left to wonder if it was all a dream, memory, or premonition because we skip to him sitting in his comfy chair on his space ship. I'm going with memory, but I'd favor dream if only because the Earth survivors act like a bunch of wusses. No wonder they lost.
So Zero's evidently slumming, in charge of a ship on a training mission or something after being a high-fallootin' Admiral in a war that ended in a stalemate between the good guys and the machine people. Well, okay, it's not quite as simple as that, but it'll do for my purposes. He's so down that he's ready to quit the series before his chief knocks some sense into him (literally, in the best scene of the first episode), just in time to pick up an SOS from a bunch of ships under attack by Captain Harlock and Yattaran, who is still playing with toy airplanes after 30 years. Again, it's a bit comforting to know that some things simply do not change.
Speaking of things that don't change, after a game of chicken that goes bad when the engines on Zero's ship fail, Harlock does that thing that he does by recognizing a worthy opponent; and destroys the transport ship Warrius and crew were guarding, then turns and leaves Zero to stew over living up to his name yet again. About this time, I start scratching my head, trying to remember the first episode of the last anime I saw where the lead character was so totally ineffectual. And, no, Urusei Yatsura does not count. There probably were a few, but it's been a while...
Next thing we see, Zero is trying to negotiate a deal with his bosses to go back after Harlock, who is causing the machine people a great deal of trouble just by being himself. Of course, Zero's bosses turn out to be part of the problem by having some kind of shady deal with the machine people that we're supposed to find out about as the series progresses. Zero gets his old ship back with, well, the same bridge crew we saw earlier in the episode. With one major exception, who is introduced in one of the dumbest anime scenes I can recall. That's probably because I've mercifully blanked the worst offenders from my memory over fifteen years, but even still, this one's a whole planet of stupid.
In fact, I dunno which part boggled me most - that the Analyzer clone in this one was the freakin' FIRST MATE on Zero's previous ship or that whoever designed the ship had the main elevator open directly into a shower stall. Come to think of it, if Analyzer had anything to do with the design of the ship, maybe it's not so unbelievable after all. Still might help explain why they got their ass handed to them by the machine people. I bet none of their ships had "fanservice" as part of the standard ship tours. See, I'm slowly learning these newfangled terms.
"First mate, Shower Scene, reporting for duty!"
Anyway, her name is actually Marina and she does eventually turn into a pretty good character, but man, it's hard to ignore that introduction. Yeah, it's a trope, tried and true, as it were, but it's still just dumb, dumb, dumb to INTRODUCE a serious character that way. Okay, maybe I'm getting too old for this stuff after all. Meh. And, of course, the first mate looks exactly like Zero's dead wife. Like I have absolutely no clue where that subplot's going. Oh, yeah, and it turns out the ship's engineer "ordered" for a new first mate because he didn't like getting bossed around by a robot. Gee, I wonder how such an outfit lost a war, huh?
Only in anime. Double Meh. It's at this point you kind of hope that something was lost in translation, but you have a feeling deep down inside that you know 90% of the stupid is coming from the source. Luckily, you've been here dozens of times before and know it usually gets better. Keep in mind, all of the above stupid is the super-concentrated kind, taking up less than two minutes worth of screentime, kind of a black hole of dumb, sucking most of the crap out of the other twenty-two minutes of the episode. Or, at least that's what you hope for. Because you still have three minutes left to watch...
Not to worry, the remainder of the episode is the launching of the ship, the Karyu, and a great time is had by all. Although there seem to be a scarcity of ships in this one, the designs are pretty standard for the later Matsumoto-inspired anime and I had no problems with them, though I understand that a few others do. I like the way the lead character gives the teaser for the next episode - it reminds me of one of my favorite '80s mecha shows, Panzer World Galient in that regard.
"Hmm, this kool-aid tastes funny."
The first few episodes focus on the integration of the humans and the machine people on the ship and we learn again fairly quickly why the humans didn't fare better in the war. They aren't quite the layabouts from the original Captain Harlock series, but they're definitely on the fast track. The whole idea of machine people - "We aren't robots!" - is one of the Matsumoto ideas that remains fascinating to me, even if it's used mainly to explore the now-familar bigotry metaphor in this particular series. Can't have too much of that, I suppose.
The next few episodes have their share of stupid, but nothing so concentrated that it stood out. It was kind of jarring to figure they only had a machine man doctor on the ship, but one doc per ship is a Matsumoto staple. Marina gets shot in thwarting an attempted mutiny by the machine men, which is at least a plausible excuse for the next shower scene, and telegraphs an upcoming plot twist you ought to be able to see coming if you're at all familiar with prior Harlock/GE 999 material. Aside from Zero himself, the chief engineer is my favorite character, which should come as no shock. I dunno if it was there in the original material or the English folks had fun with the translation, but there was one reference to Marina having whips and chains in her closet that I thought was pretty funny. Some "mysterious" third party sets up a test involving pirates that aren't really pirates, which struck me as a bit of a stretch considering the way the pirates were acting towards one another when no one else was monitoring, but that's pretty small stuff. As part of a continuing subplot, the same "mysterious entity" takes control of the ship's main weapon - the latest version of the "wave motion cannon" trope.
To tell the truth, by the time Zero added the "outlaw" Grenadier to the crew, I was more than ready for the good stuff.
To be honest, I came into this series cold when it came to knowing what version of Harlock and crew I was gonna get here. But, considering the way Harlock was introduced in the first episode, the last thing I expected was Gun Frontier. Hell, Yattaran wasn't even IN Gun Frontier. Neither was Emeraldas and she's the reason I started with this one instead of GF in the first place. So, when the fifth episode opened in the wild wild west, my first inclination was to go grab another bottle of wine. Then I figured it WAS Gun Frontier, so I grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels instead. I'm telling you, watching this stuff with a buzz is the only way to go. It also makes it so that you don't CARE whether or not you confuse Marina with Silviana. What kind of show is this anyway, when they violate the most sacred rule of animating Matsumoto women - thou shalt NOT give two of them the same fucking hair color. EVER. Even if one of them uses guns and the other doesn't. It's just evil. Bad animators. Bad.
Three. Count 'em, THREE women with blue hair on this show. Sadists.
That said, the booze level on this show had been tepid up to this point, so I figured something had to give pretty quickly. Just a few generic "red liquid" in glasses swirling around Zero's quarters. But, hey, this is fucking Gun Frontier we're talking about. Booziness is next to Godliness. So I knew it was coming, just a matter of when.
Unfortunately, there was a whole lot of stupid before then, which made it difficult to wait for Harlock and company to show up before getting wasted. I knew Gun Frontier was...eh...silly compared to what normally passed for Harlock mythos, but I really didn't expect his Warriusness to jump headfirst into the pool of goofiness, especially after all that talk about how dangerous the territory was. So, of course, he sends the potato head and the kid along with Grenadier and the
comedy relief machine man communications officer. Yeah, that'll work out just swell.
Aw, why bother. By the time I hear the "voice" they gave Tochiro, two shots are down and the glass is in the sink. I was just getting used to the voice acting, which (aside from Harlock) is pretty darned good. But the "Marvin Lee" nym tells me all I need to know about how much they really cared. Shame. I guess I ought to be used to it by now, but I'm always hoping that someday...sad to think that the best American Tochiro voice job I can remember is that fucking Roger Corman Galaxy Express film from waaay back in 1980. I'm sure there have been others I've not seen, but...eh, time to take another swig. May as well make a drinking game out of it.
Here's to you, big guy.
So, hijinks ensue, milk is spilled, swords are drawn, whiskey is ruined (in no small part because they kept it in barrels in the street because there are obviously no thieves or drunks around); town folk get all riled up, and we have several Scooby-Doo chase scenes, except with ray guns, bazookas, and giant cows instead of goofy grown-ups in fake monster costumes. Exactly what I expected when the series started five episodes back with Zero getting all angsty and kids crying and ships being blown up in outer space. Oh, wait.
Aw, fuck it, it's Harlock. All is well with the world.
The four stooges are back at their shuttle and the machine man explains that he let Tochiro chop his arm off because machine man arms are easier to replace than human arms. And he's right, 'cause by the next episode, it's as good as new. Silviana loses her clothes again, resulting in a change to my drinking game. Marina finally browbeats Zero into rescuing the four stooges. The riled-up townsfolk string Tochiro up AND point guns at him, which is Harlock's signal to finally show up. Or maybe it was because the episode hit the twenty-two minute mark. Just to make sure the riled-up townsfolk don't give him backtalk, he brings the Deathshadow with him. We know it's the Deathshadow and not the Arcadia 'cause it doesn't burst up out of the ground. I guess the situation wasn't dire enough...or the budget wasn't big enough. I'm getting antsy. No booze AND no Emeraldas in that episode. Seriously beginning to think there's something wrong with this series...
I love, love, LOVE, this piece of fan art.
Well, okay, that was more like it. For the most part. Seems Harlock brought his ship all that way just to look impressive. I really don't get what they were trying to do with Silviana. One minute she's pointing her gun down the barrell of the Deathshadow's 16-inchers, the next she's talking about how she can't fight 'cause her makeup is running. Dude, for all the talk in this series about mechanized men and bigotry and shit, they really still have these huge blinders on when it comes to women. It really makes this stuff hard to take at all seriously, even silly/serious. You almost have to believe that's in the source material, but I dunno. I kind of feel for the woman responsible for having to say that crap and put her name on it.
Luckily, there's still Emeraldas.
"You're lucky Harlock didn't kill ya."
"But who cares? If'n there ain't no booze ta drink, there just ain't no point."
Preach it, brother! I bet they had fun in the voice booth during that particular exchange. In any case, the riled-up townsfolk explain to Harlock exactly why they were stringin' Tochiro up, Harlock opens up the bar on the Deathshadow and the power of hard liquor conquers all.
Well, almost all. The four stooges are still on Harlock's trail (despite direct orders from Zero) and throw Tochiro in a cave and start whoopin' on him. When that doesn't work, one of them gets the bright idea to come up with voice activated bomb that's set to go off when Tochiro opens his yap - they stick Tochiro BACK in the noose and wait for Harlock to show up in the hopes that Harlock will get close enough for an ambush. I guess four against one would've been cheating so they needed an ambush. Or something. Of course Harlock shows up and Tochiro yells anyway because that's just the kind of guy he is. Turns out the bomb was a trick.
Yeah, we know who the real stars of this show are, huh?
Zero shows up just as everyone starts firing at each other and stops the fight. He slugs one of the stooges because it would look silly for him to slug himself for sending the four dweebs down there in the first damned place. Then he gives them the manly lecture about how Tochiro was prepared to sacrifice himself for Harlock and they all look appropriately shamed. Tochiro wonders what they were hoping to accomplish with the voice-activated dud bomb.
"We wanted to shut you up."
Yeah, "Marvin Lee," I know the feeling. God, that voice is fucking irritating. By this time, the bottle of Jack is a quarter empty...
Speaking of drinking, the power of the bottle is on display yet again as Harlock invites Zero and crew to the booze party back in town. Dunno why I noticed, but Zero is actually about an inch taller than Harlock. I wonder if that's 'cause it's technically his show. Just sayin'...
Back at the saloon, evidently the Deathshadow had so much booze onboard that the bartender could fully stock his bar. Seriously, all the shelves are full. Harlock and Zero debate the whole pirate vs machine man lackey thing, which puts Tochiro to sleep. Lucky, Emeraldas' comfy lap is there to catch his little potato head. Emeraldas looks a bit annoyed. I'm just happy he's finally shut the hell up. I actually like the Emeraldas voice here, though it's not quite up to the "Who fired on my ship?!" line from that Roger Corman 999 film. Geez, it sounds like I'm pimping for that crappy thing today. To be fair, the poor woman here only had like three lines the entire episode. Hard to show your talent with three lines. Even if one of them was really good.
"Let her get you down from there."
And with that, I ran out of patience, though not out of booze. I suppose I'll end up watching the rest of the series one day. Aside from the similarity between the Marina/Silviana designs, I couldn't find a whole lot of fault with the character art here. I did notice that at least one male character actually sported the "eyelashes outside of the hairline" thing that characterizes the standard Matsumoto female designs. I dunno if I've ever noticed that in any prior "Leijiverse" anime before. On humans, anyway.
The music was inobtrusive, if lackluster. There really weren't a whole lot of really dramatic scenes in space to show off the music to, I expect they'll be more later in the series. Most of the Heavy Meldar/Gun Frontier scenes were played for laughs.
The animation itself...eh. Seemed pretty typical for the old OVA series we used to get back in the '80s to me. The colors were nice and crisp. But much of that may have just been me remembering the hell of having to watch the washed up stuff that resulted from multiple generation tape copies.
Just because you can't get enough Emeraldas.
Damn, this turned out to be a lot longer than I planned. I'm going to have to learn to break these things up in the future. As for the pic at the top of the blog, it's a plate Mitsuyoshi sent me back in the day. I dunno if it's a particular Matsumoto character that I've just not seen before, or just a generic design. If anyone has any idea, I'd love to know.
The signature is dated "1979" (I think)