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

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Time Off to Count Cajuns!! Photo Fame Wears Lovely Shirts!!

This month is gonna be slow.  I'm driving all over southwest Louisiana taking head counts for Uncle Sam so the state can figure out how many Representatives it stands to lose because of all the hurricanes.  Assuming I don't fall into a swamp or get bitten by a rabid dog, everything should pick up come April.

The (badly reproduced) photo above is from Nasfic '85 in Austin Texas.  As explained in the recent post about Wicked City, a Nasfic is the consolation prize America gets when the World Science Fiction Convention is awarded to the furriners "somewheres else" in the world.  Suffice to say, it wasn't out of snobbery that I somehow managed to make both the Nasfics during the '80s while managing to miss every Worldcon, that's just the way it worked out.  Flanking yours truly are Karen Helmer and Tommie Dunnam from the late, lamented SDF-Fort Worth, although the SDF-Forth worth didn't actually exist when the photo was taken.  It was supposed to be an EDC (Earth Defense Command) panel on anime fandom, but none of the officers from Dallas could make it, so we pinch-hit for Derek, Meri and the rest.  We were all technically members at the time, so I guess that made it okay.

The SDF-1 Super Fortress toy on the table is the original Japanese release and not the Matchbox Robotech version that came out later in the decade. This one had the (gasp) dangerous missiles that could hunt down your young child and force themselves down his or her throat until the tyke choked to death so of course it became public enemy number one on the Japanese PTA hit list.  Or something. Anyway, there weren't a whole lot of them making the fan rounds on this side of the Pacific, so Tommy had to keep his eye on this puppy lest it find its way into some toy hoarder's collection and never be seen again. I don't think he ever let it out of arm's reach.  I dunno much about the Yamato toy, that's more Steve Harrison's department...

The picture itself was printed in an issue of the Japanese Animage monthy anime magazine sometime in either late '85 or early 1986 (actually March '87, per Jack Thielepape in the Comments below).  Fred Patten sent notes around to the various anime clubs letting us know that Animage was soliciting pictures for an article on American anime fandom and this was our contribution.  Well, my contribution.  The picture was taken by Jack Thielepape.  I don't even know if Karen or Tommie knew about it until the picture was printed in Japan.  Animage was hard to come by over here at the time, so I know I never got a copy myself, though I did see someone else's later, which is how I knew they actually used it. 

When looking at the picture, I couldn't help but notice I was wearing my Return of the Jedi tee.  Sigh.  What a way to be remembered, huh?  I had the chance to buy a Revenge of the Jedi tee at a convention in Houston in the early '80s but didn't want to spend the outrageous amount they were asking for a so-called "collector's item." For all of you young 'uns who weren't around back then, the scuttlebutt was that Lucas was really using the latter as a working title.  Well, you can see how creative George got, he just moved the "revenge" thing to the third film (which is actually the sixth) because "revenge" just isn't a jedi thing.  But before he changed the title, there were people out there who probably made a fortune on bootleg t-shirts with the red, Revenge of the Jedi logo on it.  Silly fanboys.

Anyway, I was still too young to care what the hell I looked like at comic book conventions back in the '80s, so I ran the gamut from geek to geekier to downright obnoxious.  Most of that shit is loooooong gone now, but I still have a few.



Now, normally, a sweatshirt is not something that immediately comes to mind when you think about stuff you wear at a convention.  Unless, of course, you ran all-night video rooms at cons back in the '80s. Let me tell you, it was really, REALLY difficult to track down hotel personnel capable of and willing to adjust a thermostat at 3am in the morning.  Luckily I had the Kasugi sisters to keep me warm.

Not to mention Kei and Yuri.

I remember when Mitsuyoshi sent me these.  The price wasn't bad and I'd worn sweatshirts like forever, but man, I really didn't want to get these puppies dirty, 'cause I knew the washing machine would cause havoc, especially on the small Catseye text synopsis on the back.  But there comes a time in every geek's life when you have to decide between the collector mentality and the sheer awesomeness that is walking into a room and having everyone try to read the microscopic crap on the back of your shirt without you catching them.

You think I'm kidding when I say it was hard to get info on anime back in the day?  That little bitty text was gold 'cause it was in English. Pretty good English too.  Damn sad when the best description of a television show you can find comes from the back of a freakin' sweatshirt. But, that's just the way it was.  BTW, I used that text in at least two zine articles.  Hey, you do what you have to do.

One of the great joys of making a regular convention circuit was seeing familar faces every four or five months.  In Texas, we had regular groups from all the larger cities show up at most of the major cons. The group from Texas A&M/College Station/Bryan in the '80s mainly orbited around Alex Botello, who sold models and such and thus bought at least one dealer's table at most of Larry Lankford's conventions.  Since just about everyone from that area knew Alex (he'd been setting up at cons for years), they'd use his tables as kind of a "home base" to store their stuff and take a seat when tired of wandering around.  Among them was an exceptionally lovely woman named Margaret, who was majoring in marine geology at A&M, but also did some absolutely amazing t-shirt artwork on the side.  From talking to her at length, I discovered she loved Hokuto no Ken (gorgeous, smart, talented, AND with exquisite taste in anime - yes, boys, they ARE out there), and one con she totally surprised me with a white shirt with Kenshiro on it.  I can't exactly remember what I did to deserve them - seriously, I can't recall doing anything more for the folks at A&M than I did for anyone else back then - but she'd show up at just about every convention with another shirt.  Kumo no Juuza, Ein, and Kenshiro, from Hokuto no Ken.  Ai-chan, from Catseye.  And this beauty:

Man, these bring back memories.  I don't know or remember what I did to get on your good side and probably didn't thank you nearly enough, Margaret, but if you're reading this, you totally rock.

Of course, when I got the Captain Harlock gig at Eternity, they tried to launch the title with a big push at San Diego one year and part of that was printing up a lot of Tees with Ben Dunn's version on the back. I remember one day at the con, the entire Malibu Graphics gang was wearing 'em, though I dunno if that's exactly a good thing.  But the shirts themselves were really nice and after almost ten years of use, mine never totally wore out, though I retired it a decade back.

Again, because you simply can not get too much Emeraldas

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Big Sound, Big Battle From Memories!! Long Live the Great Tree of Tragic Love!!

Legend of Fabulous Battle Windaria

Yeah, yeah, I know it's been a week since the last blog, but I've been pretty busy. Catching up. When you've been away from this stuff for fifteen years, there's a LOT of "catching up" to do. In this case, I was going through a plastic bag of old audio tapes, trying to figure out which were physically worth saving and which weren't. Unfortunately, the bulk of my Hokuto no Ken soundtracks were damaged, same with the assorted Matsumoto BGMs, two tapes of anime opening and closing songs (damn), and the tape copies I made of my Catseye and City Hunter sountracks (double damn). I still have the actual LP copies to rerecord from (provided I can find a turntable), but it's probably just less of a hassle to find and download the music from the web nowadays. But among the tapes that still worked was one of my all-time favorite soundtracks and one I never managed to get on LP - The Legend of Fabulous Battle Windaria.

I never really much cared for the "digital" soundtrack phase the industry went through (here as well as Japan) during the '80s. For instance, I was rewatching Firestarter a couple months back and was struck by how the Tangerine Dream music just sucked the life out of the thing rather than enriching the experience. Trevor Jones has made his name with digital music, but I still think his masterpiece so far has been The Last of the Mohicans and he was rumored to have been forced into changing over to an orchestra for that, which is why Randy Edelman was brought in to score half the film. I guess I'm just an orchestra kind of guy through and through, but there have been certain notable exceptions. The Kitaro soundtracks for Queen 1000 and Black Rain. And, of course, the soundtrack to Windaria. I'm not sure if the dual digital/orchestra score was the reason for the multiple composers or not, but just like in the case of LotM above, it certainly didn't hurt this one. It's a perfect match for the film, similarly brilliant and sadly mostly underrated, if in fact, it is ever thought about at all. And, of course, the two songs just soar. The audio copy I have left now is the second of two I had made for me back in the day because I wore out the first. Sigh.

Even though it's been at least twenty years since I last saw the film, I can still match the tracks to it. I can remember driving on the freeway back during the late '80s, listening to the tape, and my eyes suddenly started swelling up. My girlfriend looked at me and asked me what was up.

"Marrin just flew off."

Of course, she gave me a double take.

"Marrin just turned into a bird and flew off towards the ghost ship, and Izu is chasing her."

"Oh. Okay."

C'mon, now, I know it's not just me, though maybe in this particular case it might be. But good soundtracks, memorable soundtracks - they do that. And the soundtrack to Windaria is no exception. There are at least four tracks on this tape that I can match to the scenes. In my mind. But it's been a long time. Probably too long.

One of the many things I've lost to the black hole in the middle of my memory is exactly where I got my copy of Legend of Fabulous Battle Windaria from and to whom I owe that debt. But after My Youth in Arcadia, it stands as my favorite anime feature. There are certain films you can remember scene by scene and I'm not quite there (due to the time thing) with Windaria, but I can come close enough. Equal parts fairy tale and traditional tragedy, it's just the kind of film that should appeal to me and does exactly that, but even where anime is concerned it is, if not unique, then in rare company in that.

It's just the kind of anime film you could pop in your VCR back in the day (assuming you could translate enough of it, of course) and show to your snobbish cousin with his or her degree in English Literature and proudly say "Hey, look, they DO know what they're doing here," even if it is a bit by-the-numbers. Izu is your "classic" tragic hero of the western mold, complete with tragic flaw, actions which lead to the ruin of himself and people around him (in this case, an entire city) and, invariably, his realization that his actions have cost him everything, resulting in catharsis for the audience and a bunch of eye-swelling for us hopeless romantics who listen to soundtracks while driving down the freeway. He doesn't exactly die, as he certainly might in most classic western examples, but his fate is certainly less than appealing - a six-month wait for a (possible, IIRC, the ending is unclear) reunion with Marrin when he becomes captain of the ghost ship, living alone with the memories of what he'd done to cause her death and maybe the deaths of many of the people of the city he drowned. But, as with the case with most tragedy, his ultimate fate isn't what's important - it's the effect and lessons passed along to the audience. In this case, don't leave behind paradise and someone who loves you in order to go zipping around on a hovercycle, palling around with perverted Palu people and, whatever you do, don't drown cities just because some rich widow offered you riches and a palace. Those deals just NEVER work out.

But, yeah, it was hard to sell back in the day because most viewers only see "sad ending." They don't "get" tragedy. And to think back in England, Shakespeare filled the Globe with groundlings, who were no different from you or me, really. The worked hard, got sweaty, walked home with shit all over their faces. But they "got" King Lear. Othello wasn't "sad," it was art. Legend of Fabulous Battle Windaria isn't nearly in that class, but what is? Bah, enough of that. It's too late to drink...

I suppose much of the delight that the memories of this film bring to me come from the fact that themes such as the above are actually easily recognizable if you are looking for them, whereas much of what happens in anime is uniquely Japanese (and, yes, there is that aplenty in Windaria too). Even for us slobs who were watching raw with little understanding of the language. In a lot of ways, it's a western film, right down to the fairy-tale romance of the prince and princess of warring kingdoms and the unicorns that are shown grazing in the opening credits. Or at least it tries very hard to be.

As a writer myself, it's just in my blood to take for granted that every quality collaborative film project lives and dies by the script. So, sue me. The writer, Keisuke Fujikawa, cut his teeth on a lot of Matsumoto-inspired anime, including various Yamato and Galaxy Express 999 projects as well as the Queen 1000 film, so I imagine the romance and tragedy angles in Windaria are close to his heart. I understand he also wrote a novel based on the film or the film is based on his novel, but I'm not quite sure of the details here. Back in the day, it was difficult enough trying to translate dialogue, sourcing and crediting issues were another world altogether. I'm not exactly familiar with the director, though I'm sure someone out there will let me know he either went on to be extremely famous and awe-inspiring - or went on to do Pokemon. I kid.

The character designs are by Mutsumi Inomata, whose work I simply adore. I understand she did a lot of the supervising on the animation as well. I suspect this might be a case where she did a lot of the work without getting a lot of the credit. I dunno if the times have changed or not, but women in Japan back then simply did not get major director credits. Somehow, I suspect the situation hasn't changed much. Sadly. In any case, the characters and costuming here are a major strength. Speaking as an example of the male of the species, I just have to say Princess Ahanas just flat out rocks a battle outfit like no princess before or since. Well, assuming you don't consider whatever Xena wore to be a battle outfit. I still get goose bumps thinking of the scene on the bridge where her battle turban from hell unwraps as Jiru falls backwards...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Oh, yeah, on that note, if you haven't seen Windaria and plan on finding a copy "somewhere" in the next week or so, you might want to skip the rest of this until you do. I'm not exactly crazy about spoiler warnings in general, much less on articles about twenty-five year old obscure anime, but I understand some people actually get upset about such things. So, uh, you've been warned. Besides, if you're read this far, you already know Izu screws up in the end and Marrin dies. So there.

The film opens with a ritualistic funeral scene in the fictional countryside land of Saki ("Blossom"), which lies between the constantly warring city-states of Palu and Itha, which are currently under a tentative truce. A man has died and we see that when a peasant of Saki dies, his or her soul takes the form of a red glowing bird-thing that flies off in the general direction of what the natives call the "ghost ship," a blimp-like UFO that hovers through the clouds and emits a haunting siren every once in a while. It's fairly spooky for what it is. It isn't made exactly clear through the film if only the spirits of the peasants of Saki get this special treatment, or if the entire world does because later in the film we see bird spirits from Itha fly towards the ship as well, though the residents of Saki have evacuated by then so some of them may well have died in Itha. But, anyway...

Watching this ceremony are Izu and Marrin, two peasants farmers from Saki. It isn't clear whether or not they are actually married (or even if the people of Saki have such a ceremony), but they are definitely lovers. Together, they tow a vegetable cart of their wares to the seaside city-state of Itha, which is kind of like New Orleans in that it's built mainly below sea level and kept dry by a system of levees, dams and sea gates. The name itself is hard not to associate with the "Ithaca" of Homer's Odyssey, thus hinting that Fujikawa was trying to inject a bit more "western myth" flavor to the film. While Izu and Marrin are closing down shop, a spy from the state of Palu slips into the city and steals the keys to the sea gate from the keeper and attempts to flood the city. While everyone else runs to higher ground, Izu takes it upon himself to be a hero and close the gates. I dunno exactly why the city of Itha has no brave guys of their own who know how to close their sea gates, but there you go. Meanwhile, the Princess of Itha (young and gorgeous, of course), Ahanas, who was out for her morning swim, kung-fu's the spy into unconsciousness.

The Queen of Itha thanks Izu for being such a great guy, but Izu is a bit insulted that she hasn't rewarded him. Uh, oh, that's the first sign that Izu might not have his "hero" head on straight. The queen's advisors warn her that Palu has obviously broken the truce and so she should immediately start preparing for war. Ahanas objects, which clues the queen in that something's up. Turns out that Ahanas is in love with the Prince of Palu, Jiru (I refuse to call him "Jill" just because) and has been sending him love letters via carrier pigeon and the two of them have been going out for dark frolics in the forest (or frolics in the dark forest) that divides the two kingdoms.

For his part, Jiru tries in vain to talk his father, the King of Palu, out of the crazy plan of attacking Itha. He wonders what kind of insanity would drive you to flood a city that you're trying to conquer. Which is, actually, a very good point that never gets addressed, even after Izu manages to do it near the end of the film. The whole war plotline doesn't make a whole lot of sense on its face, unless there's something deeper that isn't really explored. It may be a ritualist thing having to do with honor, a tradition thing, or simply that the King of Palu (and his queen) are crazy insane. There really is no real motive given unless I missed something, which is certainly possible. I'm mainly working from memory here. If anyone's got any ideas on this, please say so in the comments.

Izu and Marrin go back to their house, and the countrymen of Saki call a meeting under the tree Windaria, which is where the film gets its name. Windaria is big. Really, really big. As in the size of a domed stadium, big. The people of Saki pray to it daily for good thoughts and good memories. Either the tree doesn't work or Izu doesn't pray hard enough. Probably the latter. The carrier pigeon that Ahanas and Jiru use to pass their love letters back and forth stops under the tree to avoid the rain. Izu climbs up the tree and reads the love note, laughs, and tells the people of Saki that there won't be a war because the princess of Itha and the prince of Palu are in love. The people of Saki decide to evacuate anyway, just in case. Good move on their part.



Ahanas and Jiru meet in the dark forest and talk about the possibility of an upcoming war. Neither want it, or so they say. Ahanas grabs Jiru's gun and runs away, forcing him to chase after her, though I doubt it's 'cause he wants his gun back. I have to mention the song here. It's just fabulous, one of my favorite anime songs, though you can't hear the entire thing unless you actually have the soundtrack. Jeez, now I'm starting to get the sniffles again. Man, it's tough being such a softie.

Back in Saki, word gets around that both Palu and Itha are recruiting for the coming war. Izu, still smarting from thinking that his good deed in Itha went unrewarded, is contacted by the Minister of Palu, who offers to reward him handsomely for joining the Palu Army. Just for considering the offer, he leaves Izu a hovercycle, which is just the bribe for a poor farmer boy who is used to hauling his own damned vegetable cart five miles to market. In probably the second or third best scene of the film, Izu goes on an extended ride on his new toy. Now, I've heard the complaint that this scene goes on too long and doesn't accomplish a whole lot. Yeah, and that comes mainly from the women. You got your scene between Jiru and Ahanas, this is ours. The men know. They all close their eyes and imagine they're on that damned thing and the ride's too fucking SHORT. No, the producers knew exactly what they were doing with that scene. I didn't even mind the digital music to it. It certainly sticks in your mind when you hear the soundtrack. Note to the women reading this. Don't get between a man and his ride, whether it be a car, plane, motorcycle or hoverbike. Even if you're a orange-haired, doe-eyed knockout like Marrin with your own cute critter on your shoulder, you're likely to lose. Sad, but true.

Worse than the NFL, ladies, I'm tellin' ya 

Several nights later, Izu gets up from their bed, puts on his jacket and prepares to leave for Palu. Of course, it isn't that easy. The light comes on from upstairs, Marrin comes down with her lantern in hand and eyes knowing that her lover has made his decision. She gives him a gift - a knife in a sheath (remember this, it's plot important) - and promises him she will wait for him to return to her, whatever happens. He tells her he is only leaving because Palu offered him things that he could not get for her otherwise, and promises to come back to her. They embrace, kiss, and it's only after he leaves that she slowly climbs the ladder and, at their bedside, breaks down into tears.

Sorry, had to get up and get a kleenex.

It was during this scene upon first viewing that I figured that "Izu" must translate to "dumbass" in English. Or if it didn't before this film, it certainly should've afterwards. Seriously, between the animation, the voice acting and the music in that Marrin crying scene...I wanted to strangle the guy myself. But that's just me...

Sometime after Izu leaves, the people of Itha decide to launch a fairly silly-looking balloon ship. I dunno why, exactly, because it's certainly not much of either an attack weapon or a defense vehicle. I've even heard it called a "spy balloon." Seriously. It's like the size of the Goodyear Blimp and unlikely to sneak up on a blind possum.  Anyway, several airplanes from the drunken Palu airforce decide to engage this monstrosity and end up either getting shot down or accidently crashing into it, finally bringing it to the ground in a flaming mess not far from Marrin's house in Saki. But the one airplane that manages to escape from the encounter makes it back to Palu and crash-lands, thus giving the hawks in the Palu military reason to believe Itha is going to attack them. As if they needed further incentive. Jiru once again goes to confront insane daddy over the stupid war with no motive and the king actively tries to kill his own son, but ends up dead instead.

Now the next part is pretty confusing and I've never gotten a clear explanation for it, but because Jiru kills his father, somehow he feels he has to carry out the attack on Itha. Maybe there's a rule to this effect somewhere in the Palu governing documents. Or maybe the insanity is just hereditary, I dunno. But there you go. The carrier pigeon from Ahanas gets gunned down by one of the trigger-happy incompetent morons in the Palu Army, thus preventing communication between Jiru and Ahanas. Izu shows up in Palu trying to meet with the prime minister who gave him the cool ride, but no one in Palu cares. Well, okay, at least one of them cares - enough to run over his nice new hoverbike.  But, hey, he tells Izu he can have his nifty tank instead because he has a heavy date with a hooker.  Sounds like an even trade to me.  I think every woman in Palu is either a whore or an assassin.  Some are both. No wonder the men are all drunk.



I guess I ought to say something about the relative conditions of the two city-states here. Itha is technology-deprived (you know this because they still use crossbows), but their people are competent, except of course when it comes to finding people to shut off the sea gates. Palu has advanced technology, but the soldiers are an order of fries and a drink short of a happy meal. Things crash and blow up a lot in Palu - the producers of this were undoubtedly big fans of the A-Team when it comes to vehicle explosions. I can still remember at least five examples of tanks or other craft exploding after running into walls or rocks and the last time I saw this was twenty years ago. Maybe that says something about me. Anyway, it's only because of Jiru's leadership that this bunch could get out of bed in the morning. But, somehow, he manages to get an army assembled and leads an assault on the forces of Itha.

Unfortunately, they have to go through Saki to get there.

After some scenes in the forest, where the army of Palu are attacked by figments of either their imaginations or from earlier experiments with LSD, the fight moves into the plains near the tree Windaria. Explosions blanket the countryside and one of them wipes out half of Marrin's house...

With the battle turning against Itha, the Queen of Itha collapses and Ahanas, not knowing that her pigeon has croaked, thinks that Jiru broke his promise and betrayed her. She takes over command of the forces of Itha and leads them out onto the plains of Saki, where she sees Jiru. Motioning to him from across the battlefield, they meet in the forest to discuss their futures. Meeting at the bridge that marks the boundaries of the two countries, she is saddened at the fact that, no matter which side wins, they can never truly be together. In yet another one of those unforgettable musical moments (for me, anyway), she shoots him and he falls back, he clutches her headress in his hands and we see it slowly unravel, much like their love and their world. She puts the gun to her own head. From the distance, we hear the shot and watch the river turn blood red. It's one of the few scenes from anime that's got a permanent parking place in my mind, along with Harlock losing his eye and Emeraldas getting her scar. Or kumo no Juuza's dead body on the ground, clouds oozing from all around it. Or Souther limping over to the body of his dead master, pleading with him to show him love.

Or the climactic scene from later in this very same film...the one mentioned above that got me off my lazy butt and started on this entry.



While the battle is raging, Izu finally gets to see the Palu minister who gave him the cool bike, but by that time the king is already dead, Jiru is leading the Palu forces and the queen is desperate, not knowing which way the battle will go. Still not quite grasping the fact that a flooded kingdom would be kind of pointless to conquer, the minister talks the Queen into allowing Izu to go back to finish the mission of the spy that Izu himself thwarted. She offers Izu all sorts of gold and even a palace, not to mention many more Palu women than he could afford all on his own. Yeah, well, Palu women are evidently pretty expensive to maintain, unlike their war toys. Visions of fame and fortune (not to mention the whores...er...cocubines) are just a bit too much of a bribe for the poor farmer boy, so he quickly agrees, jumps into a motorized river vehicle and zips down the river towards Itha, which has been left virtually unguarded, seeing as most of the citizens are out fighting in the plains of Saki. Conning the old guard out of the keys to the seagate, he proceeds to drown the city. Again, the good citizens of Itha don't seem to have anyone other than Izu and the old man capable enough to turn the two big wheels. In a matter of moments (or so it seems), the city of Itha is flooded and Palu wins...well, a bunch of flooded city. Oh, and I guess you could throw in the dark haunted forest and a bunch of burnt Saki farmland littered with broken and ruined remnants of the war. Whee! What a haul.

So, after the battle, Izu returns to Palu a war hero and, just as she promised, the queen gives him all the gold and fireworks he can handle. But only one Palu woman, it seems. But man, what a woman! She dances, she throws gold around, she does...stuff in bed we don't get to see...and she wields a mean scarf; which she proceeds to try and strangle Izu with. You see, the queen (or more probably that damned minister again) decides that after a couple of months he's outlived his usefullness and orders him killed. The concubine/assassin doesn't turn out to be all that and Izu, realizing a bit too late that it doesn't generally pay to make deals with corrupt royalty, manages to escape Palu with his life - or what's left of it.

In a really, really nicely moody sequence, he uses the knife Marrin gave him to cut away the mooring of a small boat and collapses into it, his unconscious body floating down the same river he took to Ithu in order to ruin it during the war. While he's asleep, the boat drifts underneath the now-broken bridge where, months earlier, Ahanas killed Jiru and then herself. Flying over the bridge that once represented what might have been a permanent relationship between Itha and Palu are two of the red soul-birds, the two lovers chasing each other in death through the dark forest, just as they'd done numerous times in life. It's a little thing and doesn't last for more than a few seconds, but it's there if you're willing to look for it. Just like a lot of other smaller treasures scattered throughout this film. In fact, the entire final fifteen minutes or so of this one is a study in one powerful scene (some subtle, some not so much) after another as Izu - and the audience - comes to recognize exactly how badly he's screwed things up.

The infamous bridge of dead lovers

The boat comes to rest at the bottom of a hill which Izu proceeds to climb - only to find himself looking down at the remains of Itha, an underwater hell of his creation, a watery graveyard sparkling under the powerful moonlight. A clock tower chimes and dozens of the red soul-birds come flying out of the city in Izu's general direction, one of those not-so-subtle scenes I mentioned earlier. Running in fear from them down the hill and across a field, he falls flat on his face and accidently cuts himself with the knife Marrin gave him before he left on his not-so-splendid adventure. Only then does he remember her. Dumbass. Plucking up his courage, he slowly trods across the bloody fields of Saki, littered with the remnants of the war and destroyed or partially destroyed houses of the people who were once his friends, until he makes it to his old house, only half of which is still standing.

Amazingly, Marrin's little critter is there and, very soon after, a light appears from within and Marrin herself walks out. The dumbass apologizes for not remembering to come back and is surprised to see she doesn't seem upset in the slightest. In fact, she just seems overwhelmingly happy that he came back at all, which should be his first clue that something's not quite right. Then the music starts up, we hear the moan of the ghost ship in the background and I start to sniffle up again. Yes, it turns out Marrin was indeed killed during the war, but her love for him was so strong that even death couldn't keep her from fullfilling her promise to wait for him. He reaches out for her, but she says she has to go and quietly fades into a red soul-bird as the music swells and she slowly flies off with Izu close behind, hopelessly chasing her across the fields and hills of Saki to a cliff over the sea, while the ghost ship beckons from afar overhead. Giving her lover one last swoop over his head and just out of his reach, she flies off to the ghost ship and disappears, leaving Izu and the land of Saki behind forever.

After helplessly watching her disappear, Izu falls to his knees and yells to the ghost ship that he'll vollunteer to pilot the ship in exchange for being with Marrin. The way it was explained to me back in the day is that the ghost ship requires human pilots to work ten year shifts. About ten years back, the current captain was the lover of Duruido (I'm guessing that's supposed to actually be "Druid" but I've never actually seen it spelled that way) who took the job to prove his love to her because she was constantly pushing him to strive for a higher status in life. Evidently, there's no higher status in life in the world of Windaria than being the pilot of the ghost ship, I dunno. But the parallels to Izu/Marrin are there. The current pilot sacrificed everything (well, the physical stuff anway) for love, as did Marrin. Since Izu and Duruido indirectly demanded the sacrifice of their lovers without truly understanding it, they were destined to suffer. It just so happens that Duruido is there on the same cliff as Izu and explains to him that he'll have to wait a measure of time (I've heard a year, I've heard half a year) in order for her lover's shift to be over before he can become the pilot.

As to why Duruido turned to stone after telling him all this is something of a mystery to me still. The best explanation I've gotten was that she was always stone but was cursed to suffer with physical form and regret for the loss of her lover until she truly understood and felt his sacrifice and her part in it. It's not a great explanation, but I always put it down to being a "Japanese thing." Maybe it's just an unexplainable thing. I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has anything better...

The film ends with Izu walking dejectedly over to the tree Windaria and climbing one of its roots until he finally breaks down in tears. How effective such an ending is probably depends on how much you care about Izu and the whole redemption and penance thing. Being raised Catholic, it registers with me because, well, without the hope of redemption, what's the point? No, most of us haven't drowned cities, but how many of us have done incredibly stupid things and turned our backs on perfectly good lovers? Probably more than we'd like to admit. The producers played a bit ambigously with the sinking of Itha, making a point of showing us the few citizens left in the city made it out before it totally flooded, but you have to figure that there were casualties. And then there were all those soul-birds that flew at Izu upon his return. Maybe they were simply mad at him for sinking their homes? In any case, as I pointed out before the recap of the film, most of that is beside the point. Throughout history, I'm sure audiences have had a hard time feeling empathy for MacBeth too.

And the song over the ending credits? Just awesome. One of the joys of this generation of anime fans is that, due to youtube and downloads, there's an actual chance of getting song translations to some of these older films. Which is why I'm off to youtube as soon as I put this one to bed. 

I do understand that Carl Macek and Streamline released a heavily edited and rewritten version sometime during the '90s. As is the case with the Fist of the North Star feature by Streamline, I made it a point of ignoring it on purpose. Still haven't seen it. Have no plans to see it. I'd rather live with the memories...

And that absolutely wonderful soundtrack.

I understand the soundtrack is now a collectable.  And quite expensive.

You too could've had an official movie book for two bucks back in the day. Books Nippan was having a sale.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fans Worship Water Cape Kid From Comic God!! Please Find Missing Artist by Old Date!!!

Odd 'N Ends

Above is one of the doujinshis Mitsuyoshi sent me back in the day, this one devoted to Osamu Tezuka's Triton of the Sea.  It's a really nice package, the printing/binding is as good if not better than most graphic novels printed over here in the mid-80s.  I dunno what the print run on this one was, but I expect someone spent a good deal of money to get it published.  34 pages, front and back. Nice, thick cover.  Several different kinds of paper stock.  Every time I picked this one up to get to something else in the box, I almost always stopped to flip through it and told myself I was going to do some more research into Triton, a series and manga I knew almost nothing about.  Luckily, we live in the age of youtube and even though the anime never got airplay here in the US, it certainly seemed to have played everywhere else around the world in the mid-70s.  Lots and lots of youtube clips of it around.  If you're interested, this is a good one to start with and the superb video quality of this guy's uploads has me guessing the series was just recently released (or, more accurately, re-released) on DVD.  Yeah, the translation for the subtitles is weak, and was most probably done in Japan, but it's certainly good enough to get the job done.

Just judging by the first two TV episodes, whoever did the write-up on Triton on wiki either didn't watch the anime or was using the manga as a guide (despite the voice cast being part of the article), because the two of them simply don't match.  A better write-up of the anime is here, though no credit is given on it.  The animation is pretty standard for the time period, with requisite cute sidekick characters (love the dolphins with freckles and "glasses" respectively), but it's still pretty cool. I mean, how many supertypes can rock a cape UNDERWATER?  Hell, Aquaman couldn't even do that. I especially love the part where Triton is shunned by the land folk because of his green hair.  This was actually back when bizarre hair color in anime was the exception rather than the rule, I guess.  Dunno if that was Tezuka or Tomino (yes, THAT Tomino, who can claim this as his directoral debut) who came up with the idea, but that one gets a drink from me before I hit the sack tonight.  I wonder exactly when the whole "strange hair color as normal" thing became a feature rather than a bug. Someone ought to do an article...

Seriously, look at that cape go!

Whatever Happened To...

Sean Bishop?

I worked with a few artists during my abbreviated career in comics - some went on to bigger and better things, some fell off the face of the earth, and some found better uses for thier skills.  Some probably shouldn't have been doing it at all...but Sean Bishop was not one of them.  I thought he was insanely talented, especially for a kid who basically came out of nowhere.  He knew the Macross source material backwards and forwards and the passion was definitely there, which is something that I didn't exactly get from all of the people I worked with.

These are from Return to Macross #20, which suffered from a printing shortage in addition to the incredibly weak numbers that the Academy Comics run of the Robotech property had, which makes it more difficult to come by than the remainder of the run. I only have two copies of the issue myself, which is why I'm using the photocopies Sean originally sent me waaaaay back in '93 or whenever this was.  The issue is a Lisa Hayes flashback story that led into the events of Academy Blues.

I did some googling for "Sean Bishop" and did come across a few IMDB entries for storyboard and voice acting work, which leads me to believe that he, like Tim Eldred, ended up in animation, which is probably a good place for a person with artistic talent and passion. Assuming, of course, it's the same guy.  I guess the ladder is fairly tough to climb, 'cause I'd have figured he'd be heading up projects by now. 

I promised myself I'd stop at one joke about Lisa's hair.  

Okay, maybe two jokes.

Area 88 in '88

Back when Eclipse first hooked up with Viz to reprint manga for us poor slobs on this side of the Pacific, part of the publicity binge included this Area 88 Wall Calendar (1988, of course), with illos by Yattaran...err Kaoru Shintani. 

Not sure where I got this one, but I'm thinking it had to be at a San Diego ComiCon in '88 or '89 because it's not rolled up, whereas all my other anime calendars are.  Wall calenders are pretty big, which is why we like 'em, but in order to ship them, you almost have to roll them up and put them in poster tubes.  I once had three or four different wall calenders from different shows, but as soon as they weren't timely anymore, I'd unhook the individual posters (almost all the Japanese calenders allowed for this) from each other and send them out to people I knew would appreciate them.  As you can see with this one, it has a plastic roll fastener at the top, so you can't do that.  Which is why I still have it in order to show it to you now.  The price says 10 bucks, but I'm pretty sure someone at Eclipse/Viz gave me this one.

This base needs to get themselves a new photographer, 'cause this guy can't take pictures worth shit.

Just for comparison, here's the one page from the 1985? Nippan Sunrise Mecha Wall Calendar that I kept.

Love me some Galient!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

San Antonio Attacks Phoenix with OVA!! Beware the Animation Cel with Teeth!!

CactusCon '87 (or "That Wicked City Con")

By the winter of 1987, C/FO-San Antonio was smack dab in the middle of organized anime fandom and I was right in the middle of C/FO-San.  Basically, I was a really busy guy.  In addition to being the center of the tape-trading part of the operation, I was in charge of most of the correspondence that didn't have to do with higher muckity-muck political stuff.  Which is just how I liked it, thankyouverymuch.  By that time, I had somewhat of a reputation as someone who was willing to bring a large part of my vidtape collection with me when I travelled to club meetings and conventions, which made for some interesting hotel stays. Sometimes I'd handle all that taping myself, sometimes I'd just hand off the tapes to whoever wanted them and I wouldn't see them again for days.  But, for conventions, I usually kept them with me because I'd developed somewhat of a rep because of my all-night vidrooms. 

I was a night owl back then (still true) who thrived on lack of sleep (definitely still NOT true), so, combined with the fact that I had a relatively huge anime vidtape collection, it made me the natural person to handle the overnight portions of the convention video rooms.  During the '80s, most of the comic book conventions in Texas were run by Larry Lankford's Bulldog Productions and he let the Earth Defense Command run the video rooms. Usually during this time period, that still meant one room that showed general fantasy/sf films and one that showed nothing but anime.  Sometimes, if the con was small, it would only have one video room that ran a combination of the two.  Generally, one room would shut down about midnight or early in the morning and I'd haul my box of tapes into the anime room and basically show pretty much whatever the majority of people wanted to see.  That allowed us to show newer stuff that wasn't available when the schedule was made, plus things that the con staff might not have (ahem) approved of.  Now, hentai vids had just started coming out in Japan a few years earlier, but I made it a point never to actually show them in the vidrooms proper because that would've been stretching things a bit more than would've been prudent.  Plus, I didn't want some parent complaining to the con staff about something Little Timmy saw even though it was five fucking hours past Little Timmy's bedtime.  I think I may have broken that rule once for Pop Chaser, but  it was only 'cause she asked really, really nicely.

Normally, there were very few souls strong enough to stay awake all night, so most of the time my programming consisted of things that would help keep me awake.  Or things fellow members of the con staff or EDC wanted to see.  Generally, that meant several hours of newer Hokuto no Ken episodes Jeff Blend hadn't seen yet, or episodes of Dirty Pair or more obscure OVAs like Birth or Greed or Legend of Fabulous Battle Windaria - stuff that wasn't popular enough to make the regular video schedules.  Because I was basically the boss, I could choose to simply step in and change programs if no one was watching. 

Mitsuyoshi the cel salesman!

Also about this time, I was itching to finally get out of Texas and actually go about actually MEETING some of these people I wrote letters to and spent hour talking to on the phone.  Mitsuyoshi had decided that he'd like to maybe make money selling animation cels and was likewise itching to, as they say, come to America, it only for a visit. So we started looking at the upcoming convention schedule to see what might work best for both of us, since San Antonio would never be mistaken for a major sf/comic book convention kind of destination.  About this time, Randy Stukey was thinking along the same lines because he was also developing some long-distance friendships, and being an sf fan first and foremost, his first thought was a Worldcon.  I'd never attended a Worldcon per se, but Ray Elliot was nice enough to let me use his Nasfic '85 membership for the con in Austin when he couldn't make it, so I wasn't exactly unfamiliar with it either.  It just so happened that year's Worldcon was in England, so Phoenix, Arizona was awarded the Nasfic for '87. This seemed pretty doable for all of us, so I sat down and shot off a letter to the con staff and asked about the availability for volunteer positions on the videoroom staff, not realizing I was ALREADY in contact with the guy who was in charge of the videoroom via my tape trading networking.

Just the way things seem to work back then.  It was like a Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing, with letters and phone calls instead of movie credits.

A few months go by and we all make necessary arrangements to meet up in Phoenix in September for the con.  Mitsuyoshi sends me an absolutely gorgeous Misa Hayase cel from Macross: DYRL that I manage to auction off and it pays for my flight.  There and back.  God Bless Carl Macek.  Yeah, I'm easy.  Turns out I get put in charge of the overnight shift in the vidroom and they'll let me pretty much run it however I want to, except with equipment that I've never ever had access to before and probably never will again.  Life is sweet.

So the weekend of the con finally rolls around and Randy and I head for the airport.  We get on the plane and THEN he informs me he hates flying.  Is absolutely scared to death of airplanes. Great. I'm not so keen on flying myself, not having flown in about a decade, but I end up having to be the rational one, which (if you knew either of us) happened maybe once a year.  The armrest between us somehow manages to survive the flight to Dallas and then there's enough downtime in Dallas to recuperate before flying to Phoenix. I pass the time pointing out all of the landforms between Texas and Arizona 'cause I lived half my life in West Texas and New Mexico and it's a cheaper way of staying sane than drinking airplane booze.  White Sands looks absolutely fabulous from 20,000 feet, btw.

By the time we get to the hotel, it's almost time to go BACK to the airport to get Mitsuyoshi, who was flying America West.  Luckily for me, my con staff contact whom I'm staying with (and I'm really blanking on his name, here and it really bothers me) agrees to take me to go pick him up while Randy checks into his room.  We get back to the airport and I finally meet Mitsuyoshi face to face.  He's tall.  As in, really, really tall.  As in, over six foot tall. And distracted.  In general, it's true that the Japanese I've met have been reserved when compared to Americans, but you could tell immediately that something was bothering him.  Turns out, the airline had misplaces his luggage. Including the suitcase full of animation cels he was hoping to sell at the convention.  Now, I'd later have a career in the hospitality industry, so I would become accustomed to airlines and lost luggage, but it's still hard to imagine what goes through someone's head when they're in a foreign country and at the mercy of  baggage handlers.  Considering the flight had originated in Japan, even if he got it all back, he couldn't even be certain it would be in time (or condition) to do him much good. All in all, the airline was lucky he was so "reserved." I think I'd have been yelling and screaming. But that's just me.

Have absolutely no clue what show this is from.  I just needed a pic of one of his cels.

We convinced him that sticking around the airport wouldn't be productive, so he agreed to come back to the hotel with us and check in.  To make a long story short, the bags showed up later that night (they'd just missed the connecting flight in LA), and he was happily showing his wares to interested customers in his hotel room the next day.  Unfortunately for him, this WAS a Nasfic and not a comic book or anime convention, so there wasn't nearly the audience or money there could've been but word eventually got out and he managed to sell enough to pay for most of his trip.  Or that was the impression I got.  You know, that "reserved" thing again.

In any case, the con started that next day.  Randy and I split up - he went off with Pat Munson-Siter and his sf/anime friends and I palled around with Mitsuyoshi and a few guys I'd met through Phoenix anime fandom.  There was only one anime fandom panel scheduled during the entire con, but I finally met Fred Patten in person, among various other people I'd only read about through newsletters.  We went out for lunch and stopped by a Church's Fried Chicken and bought a box to go.  Mitsuyoshi's eyes went wide and he kept repeating something like "It's so cheap" over and over again, which reminded me to cut back on my meat consumption if I ever decided to visit Japan. 

Back at the con, I stopped by the video room to see what I'd be dealing with later that night.  I'd never seen anything like it.  One of the local Phoenix anime buffs had lent his equipment to the room for the con and it was an absolutely amazing experience for this low-budget anime bum.  A box of commercial vids and laser discs straight from Japan - full of really good stuff, mixed together with turkeys not worth it at a quarter of the price.  The place was set up like a home video theater, except with cheap hotel chairs.  Six speakers.  A projected screen television.  Someone certainly had a lot of money to spend on his hobby.  For 1987, it was quite a sight.

Mentally, I'm thinking all through the day about what I'm gonna show.  When I see the arrangements, half of the possibilities go straight out the window - hell, I'm not going to insult all this nice equipment by showing third generation, tracking-challenged TV episodes of anything, no matter how rare the material is.  Luckily, I'd brought a good number of the tapes Mitsuyoshi'd sent me that he'd copied right off his television set, so there wasn't any chance of running out of material, just that it was rather limited.  As fate would have it, he'd also brought a few more new ones with him to give me and some of them had OVAs he'd managed to record just recently. I dunno if they still have this service currently in Japan, but back in the day, there were apparently video stores that would copy videos for you and charge you a fee depending on the number of minutes in the productions.  I always assumed that they were set up this way legally, but never really asked.

In any case, among the videos that he'd copied for us was one labelled "Yoju Toshi" and all I knew about it was that Mitsuyoshi said it was just released and that it was good.  I'd neither heard nor read anything about it, which wasn't unusual in the least.  OVAs were coming out right and left during that time period and unless we got a certain recommendation from someone who knew what they were talking about or it got heavy play in the monthly anime mags, we were flying blind. Such it was with this one.  What the hell, I figured, it was new, so at least it wasn't gonna ruin the equipment.   If it turned out to be boring, I could always stop the sucker and pop in something else before too many people evacuated the room.

Not that clearing the room would've been difficult.  I took over about midnight and there were, by my count, a whole seven people in the room, five of whom seemed to be using it as a place to crash.  That probably wasn't all that unusual for the time period - it was a sf convention, after all.  So I turned the lights up a bit, introduced myself and spelled out the way I liked to do things, gave them the usual speech about if they wanted to see anything in particular to come up and talk to me, then mangled the name of the new video I was gonna pop in, turned down the lights and started the show.

Now, I'd looked over the schedule up to that point and they'd shown nothing more lethal than the Macross: Do You Remember Love up to that point in the day, so if you've seen Wicked City, you might guess what's coming next. I certainly couldn't, having absolutely no clue about what I was popping into the VCR.  I went about rummaging through the laser disks, marvelling at how much money these guys had to spend on cartoon stuff and when I finally looked up at the nice projection screen, the first thing I saw was the part where Taki's getting attacked by the spider demon and suddenly NO ONE in the room is sleeping anymore. The fanboys are too busy making sure their respective favorite organs are where they're supposed to be, if you know what I mean.  Me, I'm wondering what in the hell I've done and whether or not I'm gonna get in trouble for it. It's not exactly Cream Lemon Rall or Urotsukidoji material here, but about as close as these geeks have probably seen.  As soon as the scene is over, two of the seven guys get up and zip out of the room, so I figure, what the hell, there's only five left and they're probably too scared to complain anyway, 'cause they'd have to admit they were there to sleep - not that they're snoozing after THAT particular scene. And, besides, I'm actually kinda digging this thing.  And I'll NEVER get to see it on such a nice screen ever again.

This gal might just put you off puttin' it in...like forever.

Anyway, five to ten minutes go by and the two guys who high-tailed it out of the room come BACK - bringing five or six more guys with them.  They all gang up at the front of the room and start mumbling to each other. Finally, one of them comes up to me and asks me if I can start the movie over.  I tell 'em if it were just us, I'd have no problem with it, but there are the other five guys in the room who might have a problem with it.  So this guy goes to each and every one of 'em until they all say they'd LOVE to see some animated siren turn into a spider with teeth where her hoochie should be all over again.  Hey, who am I to argue?  So, while I'm rewinding the tape, two or three of the guys run straight out of the room and ask me if I can hold off for about five more minutes, so they can go wake up their buddies. 

By the time the film is through, there are no less than twenty people in this video room at 2am, watching this semi-porn animated horror film that no one can understand a word of.  I think there may have even been one gal there, though I doubt she'd ever admit it.  It's the damndest thing that's ever happened to me in 15 years of anime vidrooms. I like to think that I ruined the lives of at least five people that night. If nothing else, they didn't get a whole lot of sleep.

The rest of the con went by fairly uneventfully and if anyone else showed up overnight expecting an escallation of the experience from the night before, they were disappointed.  I just wasn't gonna take that chance.  I did give out my address to a few people who definitely wanted copies of "that video," and I made sure to let the Phoenix guys know it was something that they just HAD to get on laserdisk.  Heh.

So I still have a soft spot in my heart for Yoju Toshi, even after all these years.  I've just learned to never, NEVER stick anything in that I haven't screened first.  Uh, video and otherwise.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Movies Fights Comics!! Kenshiro Strikes Three in America!!!

Kenshiro can't go undercover, even in his feature film.  The eyebrows always give him away.

Coming to America

By 1986, Kenshiro was well on his way to conquering Japan - the weekly manga was so popular that the editors of Shonen Jump had extended the run for a couple more years, and the Toei anime series was in full swing.  On this side of the Pacific, not so much. I was working in a comic shop at the time, and had access to the (few) copies of Japanese anime mags ordered through Books Nippan in California (at the time, pretty much the only wholesale outlet available for retailers not located in the larger cities) and so I kept my eyes peeled for any merchandise that my happen to pop up there.  Unfortunately, aside from the monthly anime magazines, there wasn't a whole lot left over after the regular Books Nippan customers got finished with the arrivals. My boss was nice enough to let me call Kevin Seymour(sp) in California every so often to see what overstock they had, but the well was usually pretty dry.

And the anime mags themselves were pretty expensive, so we could only order enough to cover the two or three customers who would buy them no matter what they were featuring that month. Since no one could read Japanese, the few who bought it did so mainly for the pictures.  No kidding.  Ten bucks or sometimes more for a bunch of pictures, most of which were basically advertisements for whatever Nippon Sunrise was selling that particular month, with the added bonus of Animage covering the most recent Miyazaki film.  It really was slim pickings back then, though the beggers and choosers rule applied.  Plus, the Miyazaki stuff was actually pretty cool.  And you'd get small folded posters and occasional other goodies as inserts, provided they hadn't fallen out somewhere between Japan and Texas. 

Anyway, I had a standing arrangement with the folks who bought the things that I could look through them when they came in and I took full advantage, generally looking out for Hokuto no Ken news, which was really hard to come by.  But in the early parts of '86, I started seeing ads or promos for some kind of HnK project that was different from the anime series.  The only reason I knew it was different was because the artwork was different.  I got on the phone with Tomoaki and he mentioned he knew a feature film was in some stage of development, but wasn't exactly sure of the details. He was more a manga kinda guy and wasn't really into the anime part of it.  So I wrote Mitsuyoshi and asked him to keep an eye out for what news he could give me, and by the middle of the year, he wrote back and told me that the film had already opened and closed and he had no idea when it would be released on video.

Kennnnnnn!!!!  Make them release your movie!

Well, needless to say, I was stoked. Unfortunately, it'd be over a year before I'd get any more news about an impending video release.  Talk about hell.  In the meantime, he sent me a few copies of what he called a "movie program" book, which I was left to assume was sold at the box offices and later in stores.  I would post a pic of it here, but I gave them all away.  Even mine.  Sigh.  So you'll have to settle for a link to the page of that Italian collector who has pretty much everything.

When I finally got word that the film was finally going to be released on video, it was almost 1988.  But that wasn't the worst part of it.  That would be the purchase price.  13,800 yen.  Now, when I first got into the anime thing, the exchange rate was almost 200 yen to the dollar.  Unfortunately, sometime during the mid-80s, our government caught onto us anime and manga fans and decided we were getting too sweet a deal.  Or something.  By 1988, the rate had dropped by a quarter, and would go down even further before the decade was out.  With postage and such, we we were almost paying straight up 100 yen to $1.00 by the time 1990 came around - at least when the middleman's cut was taken out.  Luckily for us, Mitsuyoshi wasn't interested in turning a profit, on this kind of thing, anyway.  But, still, 14,000 yen was a LOT of money for a bunch of geeks with minimum wage jobs. 

So, I got on the phone with Jeff Blend and a few others (including Randy Stukey, who threw in twenty bucks just 'cause that's the kind of guy he was) and we decided to go co-op on a VHS copy.  We'd throw in together and pass the copy around to each other so we'd all get 1st gen copies and enough time with the tape to make all sorts of extras for tape trading buddies.  Of course, since this WAS HnK, we figured there wouldn't be a whole lot of copies we'd have to make.  As I mentioned last post, the series really wasn't much of a hit with the American fans back then. 

A relic from the ancient past - a VHS commercial copy.

As I look at this thing now, I honestly cannot tell you a whole lot about it.  Or nothing that you can't get from a web site synopsis and watching it on youtube or wherever.  Yes, the violence is blurred  But, then, so is my memory. Part of me wants to pop it in the nearest tape player and watch it, since I've not seen it in twenty years.  Another part of me worries it'll get ripped to shreds 'cause I haven't been near a VCR that's been properly maintained in a decade.  Not that it would matter, since VHS really isn't collectable as such. I've watched the "Raoh wins" ending a few times elsewhere and honestly still think that looks strange.  Ken just doesn't belong face down on the ground while Lin talks to Raoh.  It's just...unreal.  There was so much about this movie that I remember liking the first time around - and much of it that I just didn't care for at all.  The soundtrack is cool enough.  "Heart of Madness" still rocks around inside my head from time to time. I really remember being pissed 'cause Toki and Mamiya were left out, but Jagi got a nice chunk of screentime. 

But I think my fondest memory of this was just being able to hold it in my hand, knowing I was going to actually see it in pristine form - the same way a fan in Japan would.  In 1988.  Most of you reading this probably can't understand how great a feeling that was back then because you now take it as a given.  But it was a huge thing to me.

I have fuzzy memories of Streamline buying and running the film during the '90s, but I never saw that version.  And really have no inclination to.  There was talk of one of the few groups that were doing subtitles back then borrowing our copy to use as a master, but I don't think anything ever came of that either. I don't remember any subtitled copies of the film at all.  Which is probably just as well - as I mention elsewhere, HnK just was not especially popular here during the '80s and '90s. 

Multiple Manga Misfires

One of the benefits of working at a comic book shop was having access to the catalogs of upcoming releases.  I was still heavily into collecting American comics back in '87, so I generally had a handle on the various comic book publishers and what they were putting out.  The late '80s saw what we referred to back then as the beginning of the "black and white boom," a period where everyone and their brothers were putting out badly-drawn black and white comics (color was comparably expensive to do in the days before computer coloring), usually featuring some variation of "mutant animal" in the title.  The distribution movement from mom&pop outlets, grocery stores, and drug stores (with revolving racks) toward specialized stores that sold comic books almost exclusively meant that publishers didn't have to deal with anyone other than one or two major distributors, and as long as they agreed to sell your book sight unseen, you were good to go.  Talk about Wild Wild West.  Anything went, and some of it actually sold to customers hoping to hoard all the copies of "Goofy Giraffes With Silly Swords" in the hopes they'd magically turn into mutant turtles somehow.  Basically, it was the housing bubble two decades earlier.  And it worked out about as well.  But, that's getting away...

In the midst of all those "mutant" whatevers, this was also the time when the Japanese manga titles started being translated and released by American companies.  So imagine my surprise when one day, I open the solicitation package and see this:

Too good to be true, right?

Well, as soon as I pick my jaw up off the table, the alarm bells start going off.  The solicitation itself looks legit.  Pretty nice, in fact, for the time period, especially from a small independent outfit.  Yellow paper.  Two pages, front and back, with illos obviously taken from the manga. Buronson and Tetsuo Hara and Shueisha Publishing credited.

"Bloosh!?"  Yeah, that's about what I thought.

Still, I can't shut off those alarm bells ringing around inside my head.  Okay, so they're marketing "Ken Shiro" as a "superhero."  No problem, one could still total up the non-superhero titles on the shelves at the time on one's fingers and toes.  No, the real problem was with the publisher. As in, I'd never heard of these guys before - an outfit called "Angel Comics." Whereas almost all the manga and anime wholesalers I knew of were based in California, this company had an address in New Jersey.  Okay, I'm still an optimist at heart at this point in time, though part of the nagging in the back of my head comes from the fact that I know how popular Hokuto no Ken is with the anime fanbase here in the US. As in, not at all.  Who the hell are these people expecting to sell to?  And even if they are legit, what kind of numbers can they possibly expect to draw that would satisfy the rights holders in Japan?  Yeah, okay, I'll buy 10 copies, but who will buy the other hundred thousand?

Heh, these guys exaggerate about this more than I did.

So, first thing I did when I got home is I picked up the phone and called just about everyone I knew and asked them about this thing.  Everyone knew just as much as I did.  Even Fred Patten, who had a nose for this kind of thing, knew nothing about Angel Comics, but did say that Eclipse/Viz was looking to expand their output and, as far as he knew, they had the rights to all the Shueisha titles, including Hokuto no Ken. 

To make a long story short, months went by and "Angel Comics" actually solicited for two months worth of material in the distributor's catalogs, then were never heard from again.  I can't say it surprised me.  To this day, I'm not sure exactly what it was all about and the only firm evidence I could find about the incident was in the Viz-In newsletter a year later after Viz had announced their intention to publish HnK. They described "Angel Comics" as an "obscure publisher" who had solicited a "pirated version," but were thankfully stopped for the good of all, etc. et al.  And that's probably as close to the truth as we're likely to get.  As someone who would be later involved in a similar situation involving the Captain Harlock license and some shady operation called "Coral Pictures" out of Florida, I can sympathize.  I can't emphasize enough how chaotic it was back then, with the Japanese companies apparently not much interested in cracking the American market, and with pirates of all kinds taking full advantage of the situation.

Okay, let's try this again, shall we?

About this same time, Viz, who had co-published manga titles with Eclipse Comics, decided to go it alone, sensing the American market was slowly growing large enough to support more titles.  I dunno whether or not the Angel Comics thing pushed them into choosing HnK as one of those early titles, but I'm sure it didn't hurt.  In announcing the new "Fist of the North Star" comic, Viz head honcho Seiji Horibuchi would declare it "...probably the most influential manga of the eighties." 

So, of course, it lasted all of eight issues.

You are already cancelled!

But, hey, I did my part. I bought 10 issues. Of course, my boss at the comic store looked at me like I was nuts.

I remember sitting down with Satoru Fujii, who did the translation work on that first run, in San Diego in the early '90s and having a discussion about why that original comic didn't catch on better.  All the standard theories at the time - the time for manga wasn't quite here yet, the comic was too violent, true "mangaphiles" don't like "flipped manga," etc had a bit of truth to them so far as it went.  But mostly it came back to that bugaboo that all true HnK fans know and realize deep down - the "good stuff" - the heart of what makes Hokuto no Ken appeal to us, isn't apparent until roughly a third of the way through the story.  It's one thing to tell someone "hey, wait until Toki and Raoh show up," when you can just whip out an episode or comic to prove it, but it's totally another to maintain sales of a bi-weekly or (worse) monthly comic up until that point.  And you can't just "skip" translating certain parts of the manga, as appealing as that may be.  Up until the introduction of Rei, the manga stories are, let's be honest, pretty repetitive stuff.  It's not as quite as bad as the anime, with filler (and stories adapted from later) so that it takes 20 episodes just to get to the Shin fight, but it's hardly earth-shattering material that's going to make some non-Ken fan think there's a reason the story is going to get any different a year or two on down the line. Basically, if the first five or six issues don't grab you, there's little reason to think that's going to change.

Viz dipped back into the water later in the '90s, getting as far as halfway through the Rei storyline before again finding sales hard to come by.  Or maybe it was my fault. I only bought two copies of each of these.

Would've loved to have been in the editorial meeting when they picked the cover for this one. 

"Who's the guy on the cover?"
"That's Kenshiro's brother."
"Is he in the issue?"
"No, he doesn't show up for another year."
"So, why's he on the cover again?"
"It looks cool. Plus, we're running out of color cover material."
"You think anyone will notice he's not in the comic."
"Eh, American comics have been doing this kind of thing for decades."
"Yeah, no one's gonna care."

Guess what?  Yeah, no one cared.  I probably could've saved them the trouble, but at least they tried.  The actual reproduction on these varied from adequate to awful, usually depending on the tonework that Hara used on the originals.  The more tonework, the worse the reproduction.

I totally missed out on the Gutsoon attempt during the aughts, so I can't really speak to those, but I understand they also couldn't manage to make it terribly far into the run before collapsing.  It's a shame, really (for manga fans, anyway), but I suppose it's a good thing that the companies streaming the anime didn't have to sell the thing episode by episode in order to make the whole series available, because it may never have gotten done. For newer fans of Hokuto no Ken, that's probably the only way they're ever going to see the meat of the series translated legally.  And for all its faults, the anime doesn't diverge all that far from the manga during the important arcs.  In fact, in some places (cough, Juuza, cough) I actually prefer it.  I once did a couple columns on the major differences between the manga and anime, but damned if I can find 'em...

I didn't know where to put this bit in the last two blog posts, so I'll just throw it in here at the end.  A lot of people are aware of the Gary Daniels' "Fist of the North Star" live-action film from the '90s.  I've not seen it, and have no pressing need to see it.  One night when I'm really, really drunk, maybe I'll check out a scene or two on youtube. 

But die-hard '80s Hokuto no Ken fans know the very first Kenshiro live-action film rip-off.  Made in either Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Korea (I mercifully forget which), it came out in the mid '80s and made the rounds among the fans over here who were either heavily into HnK or (more likely) Asian martial arts films in general. I used to show parts of it during my late-night version of what some of you guys might now call "Anime Hell" back in the '80s in convention video rooms.  Especially popular (read: lots of laughing and hooting) were the scenes of Kenshiro vs a bunch of guys on scooters (I guess motorcycles would've put them over budget), and the climactic fight with Shin where they actually animated (badly) Ken's shirt flying off.  On the good side...well, the kid they got to play Bat was spot-on.  Of all my tapes I gave away, that's one of them I wish I'd kept.