Archive for the ‘classic TV’ Category

Anime review: Giant Gorg

Status: watched 5 episodes (of 26)

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Rating: star4.gif

Synopsis
Somewhere in the Pacific is the mysterious island of Austral, a place that hides a powerful secret. And the evil organization GAIL is using all its might to uncover that secret, including hunting down and killing any scientists close to discovering it who won’t help GAIL. Cause that’s what evil organizations do.

Tagami is the son of one of those scientists, dead at the hands of GAIL. He travels to New York to find Dr. Wave, an old friend of his father’s. As soon as he finds him, so does GAIL and we’re off on a breakneck-speed chase that takes them halfway around the world. Also along for the ride is a nasty group of anti-GAIL mercenaries, so there’s rocket grenades a plenty. Once everyone arrives on Austral Island, its secret literally walks up to Tagami – none other than a huge alien mecha named “Giant Gorg”!

Reactions
gorg_ride.jpgI am a huge, huge fan of both old anime and Gurren Lagann, which is mostly an homage to old anime. A recent article in OtakuUSA suggested that GL fans should check out Giant Gorg and I was happy to see that while this show must have been watched by the makers of GL when they were young, it certainly isn’t a rip off. Yes there’s a kid who rides on the head of a giant robot, but that’s where the similarities end (from what I saw in the first 5 episodes).

And Giant Gorg is fun not simply because it’s old. There are some anime clichés that you can laugh at, but it’s also a pretty exciting show. Even though it takes a few episodes for the eponymous big guy to show up, the show is fast paced with a big helping of old fashioned international espionage. And just a dab of nasty, shockingly graphic violence. Plus, I’m always stunned at the complexity of hand drawn animation that used to go into weekly shows.

gorg_woody.jpgIt’s also fun to see that the show’s creators were having a good time, especially with the New York based character Dr. Wave who shares more than a passing resemblance to a certain famous actor and comedian. Anyone who ever wanted to see Woody Allen in a mecha anime, Giant Gorg is for you!

The one that started it all: Gatchaman

Gatchaman

When I was 9 yeas old, I fell in love with Battle of the Planets. It was my obsession for years, bridging lego and girls. The show’s animation was way beyond anything from the US and the story, although formulaic, hinted at deeper meanings. And it was just outright weird. For instance, why did the bad guy Zoltar always build his giant attack ships in the shapes of animals? And why, oh why, did “he” have long, slender legs, lipstick and a mane of blonde hair?

All of these questions were answered almost 20 years later when I discovered that the show was actually an Americanized version of the Japanese anime classic Gatchaman. Even though the show was poorly translated and hacked apart to make the US version – they weren’t allowed to show human on human violence – much of the show’s original emotional impact came through.

Back in 1971, Gatchaman introduced a series of important concepts to anime: a team consisting of the rule-following leader, the angry second in command, the hot young girl, the kid and the fat guy; combining the team’s ships into a mega-ship; the androgynous villain (yes, Zoltar – Berg Katse in Japanese – turned out to be both male and female); and so on.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the entire series (105 episodes!) in the original Japanese and even though many aspects are dated, there are moments of remarkable power and emotion. And action. What struck me the most was that almost every episode ended with a big mushroom cloud, after GForce had found a way to destroy one of Katse’s mechas. I’m talking nuclear explosion big. And this from a country that had lost two cities to these kinds of explosions just 26 years earlier, when many of the show’s writers were kids.

That turned out to be a clue for me as to why they would include something so emotionally charged in a cartoon. First off, Gatchaman was watched by children and adults, and a mushroom cloud if nothing else will get a reaction. But more to the point, as Matt Alt said in my piece about Giant Robots “like children who’ve been traumatized, it can be therapy to draw what traumatized them.”

The other satisfying thing about watching Gatchaman in its original order is seeing that many of the subplots that were hinted at on BOTP – Mark’s missing dad, his relationship with Princess, the similarities between Zoltar and the Spectra spy woman – turned out to be real and, in fact, fully dealt with by the end of the series.

Plus, there’s real violence and death. Whenever Mark threw his boomerang in BOTP, it would do all it’s work offscreen – leaving the Spectra goons laying on the ground, seemingly knocked out. In Gatchaman, you get to see it slice through the dudes’ throats. Oh yeah, and one of the main characters dies. Dies. Made me cry, I’m ok with admitting.

But the greatest thing about discovering the original version of BOTP is that the show has grown with me. As a child, BOTP served me well. As an adult, it is horribly cliche and hackneyed. But now I can turn to Gatchaman and appreciate its more mature themes and characters.

And as dangerously impractical as it is, a group of teenagers kicking ass while dressed as birds is still awesome to watch.

Does anyone else remember “Green Forest”?

Green Forest

Fables of the Green Forest was my first anime, although I only figured out recently that it was Japanese. I haven’t seen the show for almost 30 years, but some blurry memories come into focus after watching the intro:

There’s this group of talking animals – who wear clothes for some reason – living together as neighbours and enemies in a forest which borders a farm. I think we sometimes see the feet and legs of the human family living there, but I’m not sure we ever hear their voices. I don’t even remember any of the plots, but I assume they involved basic morality tales. What I do remember was being spellbound by the animation style that brought the animals and their adventures to life. Oh, and their voices. Was there a really high pitched one? The blue jay, maybe? And did Buster Bear have a super low voice? Sadly, I’m pretty sure none of them transformed into robots.

Another lasting impact of Green Forest were some common animal stereotypes that have turned out to be oh so true: foxes are murderous thieves, blue jays are pain in the ass loudmouths, weasels are nasty and friends to no one and rabbits are hair brained appetizers in waiting.

Thanks to Wikipedia I found out that Fables of the Green Forest – known by the somewhat disturbing Japanese title as Rocky Chuck the Mountain Rat (I always thought Rocky was a prairie dog) – was an anime adaptation of Thorton Burgess’ early 20th century children’s books. Two interesting things about Mr. Burgess: he wrote 15,000 stories and he was born in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Anyways, does all this bring back any memories for you? Leave a comment if you can remember anything from Green Forest, especially individual storylines. I haven’t been able to find English episodes of the show, on Youtube or BitTorrents, so if you have a lead, please let me know.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t pull a Wonder Woman – what an awful show that turned out to be on re-watching – and just leave Green Forest as a pleasant memory.

The real Spider-man has a giant robot

Spider-man

Spider-man 3 is opening this weekend and even though I haven’t seen it, I already know what it’s missing: a giant robot. 30 years ago, Japan got it right.

The way I’ve heard the story, a couple of Japanese producers wanted to transplant the original story onto Japan. Peter Parker would be a Japanese student in Toyko – a city perfect for web-slinging – and that would be that. The show’s sponsors had a different idea. “Kids are really into giant robots,” they said. “Give him a giant robot.”

I can only assume the producers said a silent WTF, but decided to keep their jobs. Thus they re-imagined the Spider-man origin story along these lines:

There’s this dude from space who’s dressed like a knight from the future who battles a Dr. Doom type nasty guy and flies around in a huge transforming robot – Marveller in ship mode, Leopardon in robot mode (an awesome dye-cast toy version, which I own, has just been released). He crash-lands on earth and spends hundreds of years in a cave. Eventually, the Dr. Doom guy comes to earth and kills a famous scientist. The scientist’s son finds the original dude in the cave, who’s now dying. Cave dude passes on his powers to the son, along with the keys to the giant robot, to continue the battle against the Dr. Doom guy. For some reason his powers, once transferred to the son, turn him into Spider-man. It involves injecting a serum and a huge electronic bracelet. Oh, and the robot comes with a wicked race car that also flies. Sweet.

I’ve only watched two episodes and they both follow a similar formula, culminating in Spider-man fighting a monster that grows to enormous size, at which point Spider-man summons his giant robot to kick the monster’s ass.

And despite how ridiculous this series is, the live-action Spider-man stuff is much more realistic than the US version that was produced around the same time. Spidey’s wall crawling looks pretty real, as does his web-slinging, and he fights like a karate expert.

The series has been released on DVD in Japan but with no English subtitles. Thankfully, there’s a fan subtitled version on YouTube – so loosely translated that it’s perfect to watch when wasted.

Here’s hoping that Sam Raimi gets good and sloshed and watches this before he starts Spider-man 4.