Through Older Lenses: Gall Force: Eternal Story (1986)

Somewhere in the farthest unknown regions of deep space, an ages long war has raged on between the female humanoid Solnoid race, and the biomechanical threat known only as Paranoid. During a particularly heated space battle, the starship dubbed Star Leaf has found itself with a spunky, hotheaded fighter pilot as new crewmember mere minutes before being forced to undertake warp after orders are relayed to defend a much valued set of coordinates; the planet, Chaos. And yet despite evasive maneuvers, the mostly young crew of Solnoid officers are in for the shock of their lives when the Paranoid have set in motion a plan that not only threatens the future of all onboard, but of the future of both races combined. And thus is the broken down plotline of this feature length first outing for what became one of AIC’s most prolific franchises, Gall Force. Originally started as a 3D photo comic, Gall Force refined the best of both heavy ends of the 1980s otaku fantasy juggernaut by way of taking what could be seen as cute, chubby moe prototypes, and infusing them into a somewhat hard science fiction armor. What results is something that contemporary anime just doesn’t seem to have room for this side of Moretsu Pirates; a derivative, yet surprisingly well-executed mashup of western science fiction & space mecha melodrama. And this initial film released in the summer of 1986, and directed by Katsuhito Akiyama (Bubblegum Crisis) continues to remain a personal favorite despite its shortcomings.

 

For some time, I had long considered sharing a few words regarding this first go-round for the girls of GF, but had a real hard time trying to figure out an angle to work with as a work like this is rare in that for what it looks like to the casual observer, is a lot richer in detail than many might assume. One on hand, it does fulfill the “cute girls in space with guns and powered armor” one might expect from this era, but on another, it also takes the time within 88 minutes to establish the shared existence of these characters, as well as their mechanically inclined environs, and even language/typography. And to top it off, as the film rarely to never allows viewers to catch a breath once the title card bursts on the screen. There are no extended monologues, no overt platitudes on existence. These ladies are on a collision course with destiny, and there’s simply no time for such things. With a plot that borrows liberally from favorite films and novels (largely Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, which easily lends the gender choice an added amount of potentially controversial thematic depth), Eternal Story was scribed by the often underappreciated Sukehiro Tomita (Macross: DYRL), which grants the characters enough sci-fi geek cred in the dialogue and language. From an alien stowaway, to the death defying troubles they experience on the ship as well as outside, this is a fitting form for Japanese cinema of the time to do their own successful riff on classic space yarns. (Having recently reviewed the mind-blowingly odd Sayonara Jupiter recently- this is a most welcome argument for anime being the better way to go)

 

 

So as the story quickly unfolds, the crew of the Star Leaf led by cool-headed officers Eluza & Raby, now must contend with not only an invader on their ship, but a caustic but potentially dependable new crewmember, and possibly even their superiors in what culminates in an often shining example of how cool a gynocentric space adventure could be. Being faced with threats initially stemming from what seem to be outside forces, soon becomes one of greater concern when revelations (not to mention some terrible losses) spur forth an even more disturbing truth regarding the crew, and their central role in a plot to end a generations-spanning conflict. Having been perpetuated all this time via genetic engineering, the Solnoids have until now only known one universal method of reproduction to perpetuate their species. So when a shocking twist takes place in the film’s latter half, perhaps it only makes perfect sense that a remainder of the crew feels somewhat betrayed by those who would be their respected elders. And in between all the monster attacks, hair-breadth escapes, self-sacrifices, and hard suit & mecha battles (in space AND on land!), what we have here is something far more involved than merely a pastiche of Japan’s then fevered fascination with space war. It becomes a treatise on the nature of sexual roles, protracted conflict, and life’s ability to dodge even the most terrifying headshot by mere millimeters.

 

 

After many years of going back to this first film, one must admit that there are a few things worth considering in the narrative that could raise a few eyebrows. As mentioned before, the Solnoid crew of the Star Leaf are soon faced with a plot to end the war via a clandestine plan to combine both warring races, to the terrified reaction of those who make the bombshell discovery. And since these are a solely female race of beings who have only known cloning as their means of reproduction, one can imagine the reaction at the prospect of seeing what is ostensibly a baby male. But things get a little weird when the remaining crew members experience a collective series of dreams that all lead toward the new addition of a male version of their race into the gene pool. All to the tune of an all-too 1980s teen-pop song, the implication that these lifelong warrior types would go completely gooey for a phantom companion seems more than a little contradictory to the majority of the film. What was likely considered to be a narrative shorthand for implying what is to come of our central species by the end can easily be considered a dreadful oversimplification. The very idea that all these young ladies needed to feel at uncommon ease was some random male continues to be a dated thorn in my side. The story also finds itself a little out of steam come the arrival at Chaos. These along with the crew losing what was easily my favorite member by the end of the first half chock up my most egregious complaints.

 

And considering what became of AIC’s reputation years later, it’s also a bit of a sad thing to say that for an IP that received so much exposure in the US home video market, so many people continue to overlook just how ambitious this all was. Considering that the Gall Force metaseries predates the OVA classic, Bubblegum Crisis, and contains many of that iconic series’ original staff, one would surmise that this would have as much widespread notoriety among older school anime fans. And this is where a potentially controversial statement just might creep in; as much as this writer truly enjoys the adventures of the Knight Sabers, it’s Tomita’s script for Eternal Story that elevates the material beyond anything that came after. And with some truly iconic & diverse character design work by personal favorite, Kenichi Sonoda, some still great mechanical work by Hideki Kakinuma, and memorable synth music courtesy of Ishizo Seo, the overall feel of Gall Force’s initial outing is assured and exciting. The seven-member crew comprised of Eluza, Raby, Lufy, Pony, Catty, Remy & Patty somehow achieves a certain amount of diversity in their personalities and gestures. So rarely does it succumb to the pitfalls so many OVAs and shows of the time did, that it truly feels like a thoughtful one-shot. As for the follow-up OVAs, as cool as they are, they carry little of the promise and care of this primary chapter. For me, it remains something of a lost little gem that despite its release via Central Park Media during the salad days of anime on VHS, deserves more viewers, as well as more evaluation in the shadow of that bloated, disjointed musical that came after. In the case of that series, it was all about loving the idea of a great show, while with Eternal Story, we get the greatness AND the ideas. Because as the moving little coda implies; what has happened, can indeed happen again.

 

 

Gen Manga at MangaNEXT

Robert McGuire

As one of the few industry companies at MangaNEXT, Gen Manga publishes new doujinshi’s straight from Japanese creators. On the Friday of MangaNEXT, Robert McGuire, editor and president of Gen Manga had a panel that was attended by a small group.

Doujinshi gets confused as fan made copies of licensed proprieties, but McGuire sets the record straight on doujins just being indie manga. Manga in Japan that are published by artists for free on their website or in their circles.

McGuire has lived in Japan and fallen in love with doujinshi. He wants to make it available at affordable prices for English readers/fans. There is the well known Comiket, but there is also Comita, which is a smaller but annual doujinshi convention.

At electronic subscription it is only for $2 a month. Subscribers can read/download issues at PDF formats.  Gen Manga can also be read through Graphic.ly. Still Gen Manga is starting to be available at specific bookstores for about $10 an issue. With releasing simultaneously, this is seen as a model to combat piracy. Viz and Yen has utilized Gen’s similar business model with their own properties.

Yuri Panel at MangaNEXT

Erica Friedman (@yuricon) and Sean Gaffney (@toukochan) hosts this panel on a genre of manga that does not get as much props as it deserves. Among the numerous titles out there. What is good? What are ones to perhaps avoid. This is not a panel that would suggest for attendees where there is just lesbian sex. Erica just happened to be cleaning house, so she was giving away Japanese goods to audience members.

Tweeting and generally wi-fi was horrible at Panel 2, but yes these three anime titles are suggested for yuri fans to view. These titles may not outright be yuri, but definitely for yuri-minded fans. Black Rock Shooter and Puella Magi Madoka Magica are available for free online via Nico Nico Douga and Crunchy Roll. Revolutionary Girl Utena as a clarification is available as a DVD set from RightStuf.com.

Since Jmanga.com began last year, they have been releasing digitally titles that often may or may not get released in print.  Girlfriends, being the only exception is also available in print from Seven SeasLove My Life, and Poor Poor Lips are yuri electronic released titles. Erica gives much props to Jmanga.com on bringing over Yuri titles to be read in English.

MangaNEXT 2012 Panels in a Nutshell

Yes you would have to have microscopic vision to see it, but in a nutshell, the image above was my schedule for MangaNEXT. The purpose of this entry is to highlight a portion of panels I was able to attend, yet do not have as much notes or tweets about, so I can easily sum up these panels in a nutshell.

MangaNEXT panels were split into either Industry or fan panels that spoke about manga recommendations, the process of creating manga, or Q&A’s with invited Mangakas. There were also other panels that interested attendees.

Friday 

Ezera at opening ceremony

Opening Ceremony began slightly delayed, and was the only panel I saw that had a line before it began. Normally convention guests would be at the Opening ceremony, but there were none at this one, so convention chair Ezara Cudjoe spoke thanking the audience for their support.

Manga is relatively one of the subsets within this umbrella of Japanese culture, it is an established industry in Japan, but succeeding in the United States is another story. Still anyone attending MangaNEXT shows proof that there are fans.

Cosplay Burlesque

After attending a couple of anime conventions last year.. and missing this event every single time. I am finally able to see a portion of this at MangaNEXT . Yes you have to be 18+, and no you can’t take photographs. So armed with a set of earplugs. I made my way over to the Burlesque with my friends. Participants in this show showed up in cosplay and stripped down to undies and pasties. Cell phones were also not allowed at this event. One thing I can say that was a memorable act, was the Angry Birds skit.

Sunday

I happened to attend Ed Chavez’s Indie Manga panel, that was woefully cut short due to technical difficulties. Hopefully Ed would be having the powerpoint up soon. Heard Natsume Ono’s name several times. Felipe Smith was also in the audience, so there was an interesting dialogue between these two industry people.

Vertical at MangaNEXT

Vertical Panel was an industry/Publisher panel ran by Ed Chavez (@vertical_ed), who has been dangling the announcement of three new titles prior to the convention via twitter. He had a similar presentation to last year’s industry panel at AnimeNEXT. Here are some of my notes:

  • Chi’s Sweet Home with vol 8 has caught up with Japanese releases. Releases shall be slower, but vol 9 will be out in May and English version looking for an August release.
  • Drops of God is only going to be 5 volumes. Not enough in sales to justify bringing out the entire 40+ volume series. Dropsofgod.net has retail prices of individual wine from manga if you want to taste.
  • Dororo is to be released soon. Meant as a value release in only paperback. Going to be keeping the same cover as previous volumes, and paper quality would be like Drops of God.
  • Vertical catalog is going exclusively on ebook format.
  • Flowers of Evil from Shuzo Oshimi is releasing in May. This was run in the same magazine as Attack on Titan, may appeal to Love Hina fans.
  • Five Centimeters per Second from Makoto Shinkai’s noted movie. This is an omnibus trade paperback out in June. Take a look at the cover here.
  • Heroman from Stan Lee and Tamon Ohta is a new property. Looks to be a September release. Great way to get into manga from not necessarily a Japanese property.
  • Message to Adolf part 1 out August in Hardcover format with 614 pages.
  • Sakuran from Moyoco Anno is releasing in July.
  • Limit from Keiko Suenobu is a new title. Her previous work Life was released from Tokyopop.
  • Queen’s Blade Perfect Visual Collection is releasing in November with hard cover treatment. Vertical will get into artbooks, so “why not go in fists flying?”

Some issues brought up from audience on potential for more Usamaru Furuya works. Sales have been limited, favored title for Academic, so it is up to mangaka on willingness for more English releases.

Summing MangaNEXT 2012

I am glad that this year I was able to attend MangaNEXT. It is an intimate convention held this year at the Sheraton Meadowland Hotel & Conference Center that was one train ride from New York City on the New Jersey Transit paired with a complimentary shuttle from the hotel.

MangaNEXT is known as the only convention in the United States that focuses on manga/graphic novels/comic, so for any manga supporter/fan/amateur artist, it is the convention to be at. Starting from 2006, its history as a convention is quite new, so there is potential and room to grow. This is the sister convention to AnimeNEXT, and typically held around October, however due to NYCC being held around the same time MangaNEXT last year ended up skipping 2011’s convention year and resumed 2012.

At MangaNEXT, one floor covered panels, artist alley, dealer’s room, and any other normal (anime) convention activities like Manga Swaps, Workshops, Games, Sake Tasting and the updated/convention traveling Manga Library, that I have seen at other conventions like AnimeNEXT, Otakon, Anime Boston, and New York Anime Festival. The programming of this convention was only one page on my PDF viewer. So for convention goers, this is a typically light convention. For people on Twitter, check out #manganext for the ongoing conversation about this convention.

Winners of 24C at Artist Alley

One activity that stood out as an unique activity was a 24 hour challenge/contest in model building. I spoke with the organizer on Friday, as attendees can sign up for a kit and build models. Then I observed over the two days as participants built their models around the convention. I happened upon the winners at Artist Alley on Sunday, who won based on artistic creativity that included pipping and pegging the model. Winning the contest, certainly includes bragging rights, a nice trophy, and definitely time well spent on building a beloved figure. More pictures of this are up over at Anime Diet’s Flickr. As the organizers closed off this year’s MangaNEXT. Look forward to AnimeNEXT in June 2012.

Review: The Secret World of Arietty

The Secret World of Arietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietty)
dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, written by Hayao Miyazaki
Studio Ghibli/Walt Disney, 94 min.
Release Dates: 7/17/10 (Japan), 2/17/12 (US)
Starring (US dub cast): Bridgit Mendler (Arietty), Will Arnett (Pod), Amy Poehler (Homily), David Henrie (Shawn), Carol Burnett (Hara)

Summary

Young Arietty, the daughter of loving parents Pod and Homily, is a Borrower—a race of miniature people who live in the baseboards of human houses and “borrow” cast off items for their needs: a single sugar cube, a sheet of tissue paper, pins. They spend their time avoiding menaces such as cats, crows, insects, and above all else, being seen by the giant “human beans.” However, one day, a sickly young boy named Shawn arrives in the house they share with his aunt Jessica and their housekeeper, Hara. Shawn catches a glimpse of Arietty when she is out on her first “borrowing” expedition with her father, and thus begins an unlikely friendship that will change her, and her family, and his own life.

The story is based on the 1952 children’s novel by Mary Norton, The Borrowers.

A fine example of the detail in this film.

Review

The Secret World of Arietty, or Arietty the Borrower, is not the first of its kind: a film penned by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by someone else. The last such film was the heartwarming coming-of-age tale Whisper of the Heart (1995), which, with its memorable take on “Take Me Home Country Road,” still remains one of the great anime stories about the birth of a young artist. Arietty is not quite the equal of that masterwork, but there is plenty here to savor nonetheless.

Miyazaki’s animation, at its best, has always been able to convey a sense of wonder and grandeur. That tradition continues in Arietty, though not through grand vistas, soaring flights, and surreal sights: this time, it is by magnifying the ordinary household and its environment to a place full of danger, adventure, and life. Leaves shimmering with dew and rainwater are canopies for the tiny Arietty. Nails hammered into the wall are steps, and the side of a cabinet a tall cliff. An intricate dollhouse is a luxurious mansion. Much work was clearly done examining the physics of smallness: cups and teapots are filled with single droplets, sounds like refrigerator hums and footsteps become ominous echoes. For the Borrowers, the world is both scary and (for Arietty, at least) full of exciting possibility. This sense of scale is perhaps the film’s greatest success, and rightly so: if this aspect did not work, nothing else would have. It helps the audience take Arietty and her family’s predicament seriously. The first twenty minutes—Arietty’s first “borrowing” expedition with her father—convey the necessary tension, secrecy, and urgency.

Paper clips, staples, and fish hooks all become tools for adventure.

After that sequence, the plot slows down to a more leisurely pace, focusing on the growing relationship between Arietty and the sickly human boy who has been brought to live in the house, Shawn. Since this is a film that does not rely on the grand gesture or the surreal, their friendship is conveyed through relatively quiet and restrained means: a sugar cube with a tiny note. Conversations in the field and through screen windows. These moments, accompanied by the gorgeously haunting Celtic soundtrack by French singer/composer Cecile Corbel, are beautiful in their simplicity and directness, free of the increasingly surreal accoutrements of Miyazaki’s recent works. (The use of insert songs, however, are not quite so successful and tend to be a bit overbearing—one of the signs that this is not a Miyazaki-directed film. He never uses insert songs.) The plot only seems to hiccup in the final act, when the Borrower family is about to leave, but this is more than made up for in the film’s final scene before credits, which earns its warmth and tenderness. It is, in fact, a little more natural than the final scene of Whisper of the Heart, which contains one of Miyazaki’s all-time left field conclusions. (Those who have seen the film will know what I mean.)

Disney usually picks solid voice actors for the dub, and this is no exception. Arietty, played by 20-year-old Brigit Mendler, sounds like a real teenager and like most Ghibli heroines is risk-taking and spunky enough to keep the otherwise languid plot moving. Her interaction with her parents, Homily (Amy Poehler) and Pod (Will Arnett), is natural and believable, which adds great credibility. Arnett does not use his usual comic talent here, opting instead to intone his deep manly baritone. Poehler is put to great use as the frazzled and easily frightened Homily, reminding me of the freak out moments in her role as Leslie Knoppe in Parks and Recreation. Carol Burnett, as the suspicious housekeeper Hara, gives a great comic performance filled with different moods ranging from suspicion to frantic exasperation, though her motivation for ruining the lives of “the little people” seems underdeveloped. Shawn’s American voice actor, David Henrie, conveys a sense of melancholy and helplessness at his possible death that teeters on maudlin at times—the only somewhat uneven voice acting performance in an otherwise solid cast. He is also supposed to be 12 years old, but sounds much older. (Then again, if he had the sort of voice heard in shows like, for instance, Naruto, that would be far worse, so this is a minor complaint at most.)

Ultimately, Arietty is best understood as a small-scale coming-of-age story, both for Arietty and Shawn. Their encounters are relatively brief, and so don’t quite hit the deep longing that Whisper of the Heart tap into so well, save perhaps for the one scene where Shawn talks about his impending operation. Then again, not all films need to: as a depiction of the wonders of the ordinary world, as a light-hearted adventure, and a portrait of two young people becoming unlikely friends, Arietty is more than competent. This would be a triumph coming from any other studio, and it’s only with Ghibli that it is simply a solid entry alongside formidible masterpieces and classics: a testament to the studio’s greatness and consistency. They just know how to make ’em, is all.


The Secret World of Arietty is currently playing in US theaters nationwide.

A Valentine’s Gift from Skullgirls

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and the nice people over at Autumn Games and Reverge Labs have sent over a special treat for all you Anime Dieters eagerly anticipating the release of their fighting opus, Skullgirls …

Here comes a new challenger!

Valentine is the newest character revealed for Skullgirls.  She’s a deadly ninja nurse, and the lone survivor of a group of Anti-Skullgirl lab operatives.  However, don’t let her benevolent nurse appearance fool you.  Valentine has switched sides and now serves the Skullgirl willingly, carrying out her master’s duties and striking at her foes from the shadows.  Not much is known about this secretive fighter, only that she is as deadly as she is beautiful.

A long rumored character that has now officially been added to the roster for this highly anticipated game, Valentine is sure to become a fan favorite in this epic 2D fighter.   How many more characters will we see before the official release later this year?

Skullgirls releases early 2012 for PS3 and XBOX360.

You can find more news, sneak peeks, and exciting announcements at the official Skullgirls and Reverge Labs websites.

Publisher: Autumn Games
Studio: Reverge Labs
Genre: 2D Fighting