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Through Older Lenses: Blue Flames (Aoki Hono, 1989)


Looking back at all the writeups I’ve shared with Anime Diet readers, it’s come to my attention that a large portion of what I tend to talk about are the stark contrasts that exist between eras, and how much has changed in the general cultural landscape. Even the very idea that any changes—be they culture shaping or merely timely and curious—it is amazing that these thoughts can come to you via the mere act of taking the time to collate and share them through my fingers. Which can only be more exciting when we consider the world we have begun to leave behind, and possibly for the better. The waves of grand change have been harsh, and equalizing. And despite what many may think of as being something to lament over, one can’t help but also consider how much evolution has led us into a positive, potential-filled realm.

So when we talk a little more about the era that was the 1980s, one has consider the good hanging chummy-like with the bad. And when I mean bad, I mean…potentially psychotic.

So when I come to you with another look back at an anime that never received a general US license, let me accentuate that the very reason I selected this as my latest Lenses is that it embodies quite a bit about what I hope we are slowly beginning to abandon. Because this is not the kind of psychosis that sprouts randomly, or is some manner of simple illness, but of one possibly societal in nature. So what exactly is this man-made Frankenstein?

Our hero's intimidated face.

Enter Ryuichi Kaizu, the central character in the little-seen one-shot, Blue Flames (1989). He may not be the most popular high school student, despite his obviously athletic form and diligent running habits. Many students even consider him a little strange for doing this, as he has no affiliation with any sports clubs on campus. He’s clearly a bit of a loner, and often considered a little weird by classmates who watch him at a distance. However, he is also in many ways one with a magnetism that some of the school’s female contingent can’t seem to resist. And this hardly matters, as we soon discover that Kaizu is completely incapable of any true sense of emotion, empathy, or shame, as he spends the majority of the show’s running time creating a swath of quiet destruction the likes few anime have ever displayed. That’s right. Blue Flames is the story of an athletic sociopath who will coldly stoop to incredible lows in the name of fortune.

His busy face.

At the offset, Kaizu is both offered a gift by a pretty classmate and then intimidated by a pair of thuggish martial arts students, which reveals quite a bit. On one end, it establishes that regardless of how little his classmates know of him, his looks are the draw, and his reaction to the thugs is something to consider. Instead of doing the typical anime thing by way of showing up the two toughs in a fight, he steps back and inquires if the two would rather receive payment in lieu of a beatdown. Obliging him, they let him go, which leads us to what Kaizu tends to do best, it seems—having sex with beautiful girls, then casually working them for money. (In this case, it’s his older hostess bar girlfriend who shells out the yen to keep his face-beaters at bay.).

That’s right. And it is within these first few minutes of the show that we are privy to Kaizu’s methodology at work, which escalates throughout the entire 45-minute running time.

Much of Blue Flames‘s events seem strung together from vignettes of this guy essentially seducing (???) and eventually working to destroy the lives of those he comes in contact with in the name of financial gain and power, and never getting any comeuppance for it. Moments after the payoff occurs, he discovers the name and reputation of the pretty girl from earlier. When it is made evident that the girl is a popular junior, and daughter of a wealthy hospital owner, his sights are set on target in the only manner he understands: date her, offer her sweet, manufactured words, and eventually date rape her in his house upon her initial visit, only to extort the already disapproving father into paying him to break up with the hapless young lady. And with the money he succeeds(!!!) in taking to dump her, he moves from the small town life, and into Tokyo to go to University with his “dead weight” elder ladyfriend in tow. (Meanwhile, the background of the story has been informing us that the high school’s captain of the rugby team had long been infatuated with the dumpee—leaving him fuming at our main character’s dating interception/aforementioned dumping.)

Thankfully, the creators of this charming tale take the time to share the fact that Kaizu’s family are reacting interestingly to all this. During the school plot, his younger sister muses happily that her older brother seems to have a girlfriend, while his mom and dad seem at odds with what is to be done with his future. Initially concerned with his college education, his father’s sense of paternal duty turns on a dime, granting us a clearer idea of how he sees his obviously disconnected son. His mother looks on helplessly as Kaizu takes his now acquired extortion money to the city, disowning his family in the process—out in the street. His dad, unfazed, and possibly the show’s sole voice of reason, would rather have little to nothing to do with this young man after such a careless maneuver. He is fully aware of the cold-blooded beast he has unleashed unto the unsuspecting world.

Upon arriving at Tokyo University, our hero attempts to join the college’s tennis team, where he not only encounters the established pecking order, but also the fresh faced daughter of a powerful bank owner. Never one to waste time, Kaizu goes into hunter mode again, utilizing the only tools he seems to understand, sleeping with the club’s “queen”, ascending the ranks, and belittling others. And seeing as how this is college, it might seem strange that no one at this point has considered running him over with a truck. In fact, that’s one of the show’s most frustrating elements. So in line with the indirect, anti-confrontational nature of some folk, not to mention the terrible timing of certain unlucky truth-bearing souls, Kaizu has frighteningly uncanny luck that allows him to continue his rampage unabated. Whether he’s making the moves on a number of universally empty-headed female characters, or getting otherwise earnest students in deep trouble with those in authority, this guy is something of a societal equivalent to something like The Terminator, or even the shark in Jaws. (Sex-Money-Sex-Money-Sex-Money-Sex-Money,etc.) There is even a hilariously awkward pre-sex scene in which our character is capable of making a potential lover change her mind from leaving by merely exposing himself. And to make matters even more distasteful, upon returning to his now dejected hostess girlfriend who seems primed to either leave, or kill him and herself, is pacified by him resorting to his “cure-all” tactics, and getting his rape on. I wish I were making this up.

Noone asked, but enjoy his sex face..

A large part of what makes Blue Flames such a fascinating three-engine train wreck, is in not only a clearly detestable character more of us would be happier seeing chewed out of a flaming jet engine, but in the often contemptuous viewpoint it takes toward virtually all who encounter him. While one may opine that often the most terrifying villain is one with no clear backstory, or reason for their monstrous acts, we never even witness a character smart enough to avoid Kaizu’s game playing. So much of what the show seems concerned with, is Japanese society of the 1980s, and perhaps the manner of youth that was possibly being reared during such a competitive, all-or-nothing period in time. We could even equate Kaizu with a certain Patrick Bateman in many respects, but even American Psycho allowed us to view the world with enough shades of levity and humor to allow us to believe that such a creature could in fact wander the world with few to zero consequences. In the case of this young man, everyone else is either oblivious to his petty thinking, or absorbed by, and willing to buy into it, to often disastrous results. And this possibly even paints him as a hero by the show’s standards—which only makes the show worse in retrospect. While this may not have been the intent, the end result is pretty cut & dry. In Kaizu’s wild, it’s either be the hunter or the hunted. The funny comes when the prey are often so inept, that his actions seem far more calculated than they actually are.

Now one would assume that a review of something like this would require me to elaborate on how it all ends, but one can get the idea by the previous paragraphs, and make their own judgment as to whether or not to ever see it. It’s a bizarre curiosity that continues to baffle me (someone actually bankrolled this?). For a non-hentai release riddled with sex and rabid misogyny, this show stops at nothing to drag us through some of the absolute worst of human behavior with rarely to no moral compass to counterpoint it. But there is also an element of zeitgeist that may remind one of changes in the world around us now, where such mindsets are reaching their ultimate nadir. And in that sense, the show is a failed look at what some in Japan were either in fear, or awe of when thinking about the youth of the era. If anything, I’d love to dig up the manga, if only for the pure reason of seeing whether Kaizu ever crosses the wrong person, or goodness forbid is stopped by a faceful of STD. It’s an anime so incrementally horrifying, one may either run in fear, or stick around out of pure morbid masochism—perhaps painting viewers like myself in a none-too-flattering light.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bathtub full of battery acid to tend to…

Analog Diaries Part 2: Thinking Of The Children

A product ripped from the blogs of recent days, The Analog Diaries is a series of recollections of a time before digital distribution. In the days when passion was gargantuan, and access was low. Created in memory of the days when all fans had on their sleeves were their desires amidst a media climate rivaling the Southern California Desert. It was a time of heroes, villains, fools & miles of tape. Welcome to the land of uncool.

How else could it have played out? A young life, within limited means.

There were only two real roads into the anime medium during those days. It was either what was provided for us on the tube, or at stores/swap meets where we could find an assortment of both authentic toy replicas as well as knockoffs emblazoned, “Made In Macau”. It was perhaps this one array of simple elements that led me down this strange road. And on that road contained a dozen or do bizarre detours, and speedbumps that only a few of us noticed. When you’re a kid, if it was cool to you, that’s all that mattered. And cable showings of edited & dubbed versions of Unico, or The Legend Of Sirius were rare. But when they came on, it was not unlike treasure landing at my feet. There was little keeping me from the tube when works like this were on. I even vividly remember catching the original Uchu Senkan Yamato feature on KTLA Channel five on a dreary Sunday morning at Grandma’s. Or how about the time’s I caught Gatchaman on mexican TV with much of the violence well intact? Better yet when Nausicaa came to cable in the form of Warriors Of The Wind? There was a quality to all of it that left me not merely surprised & inspired, but racked with longing for more.

Access…the ultimate dilemma.

And yet this very lack of access possibly even contributed to my later denial of admiration, and even disdain for it in just a few brief years later. Made all the more dramatic when my younger brother started on his weekly trips to the local video huts.

Continue reading Analog Diaries Part 2: Thinking Of The Children