Personally speaking, the best one can wish for in regards to those who inspire and imbue us, is for them to seek (and hopefully find) truest happiness. Already several glances at today’s news, and here I am, hoping it is indeed true. Several hours into the morning, and the news of animation legend, Hayao Miyazaki announcing his retirement from feature direction has been bouncing across my screen like colored lights at a pachinko parlor. And while the animation fan community shares with the expected sad face emoticons and sentimental musings, the only thing that will come out from me as response is, “this had better be serious this time”. Much like another breakup announcement by The Cure, the retirement of this cartoon grandmaster has been one that has been long delayed, and is a relief to hear.
And it isn’t due to any direct disapproval, or wish for any manner of ill will, but rather that in the years post Mononoke Hime (1997), there simply hasn’t been the same manner of flare in Miyazaki’s works that have felt as strident, or as important. Often escalating in visual quality, and much less in narrative or spiritual immediacy, his films have become an almost thinly veiled lament over his inability to retire peacefully. There simply hasn’t been as much for him to say in a while outside of either screeds against contemporary Japan(Chihiro), or to merely dabble in less involved, less coherent tributes to the written works of others. And while there were truly some memorable images and scenes in the films post-1997, it often felt as if there was this lingering feeling that the last word had been said, and everything else was a perfunctory series of bitter and indifferent post-scripts.
But prior to all of this, his career with Studio Ghibli has remained and will remain an all-important benchmark in animation history. From his early television work, to his run with the now Disney-like icon of a wheelhouse, it will be hard to imagine another creative name who will have such a wide-reaching impact. His thematic and artistic imprint has grown to influence generations of visual story lovers, and likely will continue to for generations more. Even as word spreads that he may remain with Ghibli in some other supervisory capacity, it can be finally said without hint of irony, and in best supportive voice, “arigatou kantoku”. (Be free.)
Is maturity the bane of otakudom? Can one retain the same love for something years after life has added on the experience, and insight capable of seeing through much of what made it exciting in the first place? For those who have followed The Analog Diaries thus far, many have seen that a great bulk of material that drew me to the anime & manga arts were awash in the heyday of the OVA. Having been inundated by the form throughout the latter 80s thru the 90s, I have experienced a fair deluge of shows, and series that while far from masterful, helped create the admirer that I grew up to become. Being already a youth weaned on looking at the Reagan era with a bit of sourness no doubt brought upon by growing up in a family not as fortunate as so many in the trickle-down pathway, various artistic, and literary influences were already making waves in this once innocent mind.
So perhaps anime came at the right place at the right time. A dash of rogueishness to set the embers to a glowing high, and a sense of dare to raise those flames beyond control. Much like the burgeoning new music culture forming from the ashes of punk & noise, there was something immediately attractive to the anime artform when it was willing to be more than anything the west could conjure. And as in any art, all it takes is a byte, a mention, a whisper in the ear, or a song to send it all home.
It was more than mere escape, it was a thumb to the eye of caution in a media sphere fraught with zeroes and ones.
What I hope to introduce within Through Older Lenses, is an expansion beyond merely Bridging The Gap, and tackling influential works contrasting both my youthful, and current points of view.
As a first title to make mention of, I’m going to go head to head with an oft remembered, if not wholly loved first installment of an OVA series that has maintained perhaps a greater amount of influence than some are willing to admit: The Noboru Ishiguro directed Megazone 23 Part One!
Again, while this was in no way anything more than a stepping stone in anime history’s days before OVAs truly took off with Bubblegum Crisis, the life behind this strange title has made more than it’s fair share of waves in international fandom as (inexplicably, save for the involvement of several Macross key staff) Robotech:The Movie, as well as a briefly released VHS version via Streamline Pictures back in that company’s latter days. As mentioned previously, the Megazone 23 project started as a television series pitch under the name Omega City(as well as various monikers), which was inevitably scrapped after head sponsors pulled out mid-production.
But the pedigree behind the project is almost a who’s who of late 70s- early 80s pioneers such as Toshihiro Hirano, Ichiro Itano, & Shinji Aramaki during the burgeoning days of Artmic. All in the name of telling a tale of Tokyo awakening to a revelation that the Bubble-decade’s sunny skies, colorful clothing, and endless shopping was merely a facade concocted by a hyper-aware AI system in the hopes of lulling what remains of humanity into a happy dream. A humanity on the brink after generations of infighting that has left the populace in a perpetuated fiction, hiding an ultimate secret; that Tokyo itself is within one level of a monolithic space vessel 500 years after the remnants’ endless warring left Earth uninhabitable. Through the eyes of biker-teen Shogo Yahagi, his friends, and would-be love interest, Yui Takanaka, twist upon twist threatens to undo the fabric of Japan’s happy, yet suddenly fragile reality. And all this as the lives of Yui’s roommates take steps into following their dreams within this already volatile web of notions. With Mai, her longing to become backup singer to the era’s top idol singer & tv personality, Eve Tokimausuri, and Tomomi, hard at work guerilla-filming her very own science fiction masterwork. Streets are alive, the music heats up, as this initial outing culminates in a strangely potent finale as the truth is revealed, casualties are felt on all sides, and the moral quagmire concerning the future of the human race reaches critical mass.
So what was it that intially drew me to this? Quite simple, actually. The unrepentantly 80s design aesthetic was an instant win for me, being one of a generation who had grown up on Macross via Robotech, and my instant recognition of the visual stylings at play here was massive. The images of both the Garland, and EVE were enough to sucker me in. Even as the look, and animation seems crude by modern standards, there was something instantly tangible and bizarre in the presentation that sealed away any doubt that I would miss this project.
Reflections Of Youth:
Being wholly frank, I loved what I saw, even if it didn’t make a lick of sense. And back then, it hardly mattered as I had already long accepted that OVAs were something of a grab bag of disparate ideas, often not cohesive enough to fully justify a continuing series. And despite knowing that the series was resumed years later, with an almost entirely different creative team, there was something inherently right about what this series’ initial outing was suggesting. It probably didn’t hurt that only a few years later did Hollywood flirt with a similar premise in the guise of the fiendishly fun, They Live (1988) where the sleeping populace were being manipulated by an alien force masquerading as the rich and powerful, and amassing many into their cult of submission in the name of interplanetary domination. It was a Streets Of Fire-infused take on Plato’s The Cave that while mired in enough 80s cheese to block an entire state’s plumbing systems, had enough cool factor & attitude to make for a fun afternoon. Again, the excitement here being a product of just being in love with the idiosyncracies of the project’s world, its wildly paranoid world view, and most importantly; the music. Few anime tracks of the 80s has the emotive power of Senaka Goshi Ni Sentimentaru, all while a young Shiro Sagisu let’s loose throughout the series. Even as it has a thing or two to say about the time it was released, it also became a surreal embodiment of it.
Through Older Lenses:
Upon watching this first chapter again recently, several things began to stand out that while tangible, never seemed to gel properly in my mind before. The first of which is how the show’s cast continues to act, regardless of what Shogo has uncovered while on the run with the show’s hopelessly tacked-on transforming mecha/motorcycle, The Garland. And it is in the means by which these characters either mildly shrug off the incredulous story of them living within an elaborate fiction, all the while tending to their lives, looking to either be a part of the contemporary entertainment industry, which can be considered a business of fictions in itself. Something about this connects in ways that even the oft-rumored Hollywood progeny of this series, The Matrix never did. While the main character, Neo grapples with the revelation of living in a whole new reality, he never seems to care one bit about the world he’s left behind. Something that begs some interesting questions regarding human behavior. Especially human behavior within a sprawling metropolis, while the world changes dramatically around them. There’s something very L.A. about what the kids of Megazone 23 are doing amidst all the intrigue. Characters continue to act selfishly, even irrationally to the point of sexual hysteria it seems, which is an interesting take on what has now become something of a cinematic science fiction cliche, “The world within the world”. And yet it in many ways makes a great deal of sense for a decade drunk on media success, Coca-Cola nightmares, and SONY Walkman dreams. Even if it is a dream, it’s still lights years more attractive than what’s “out there”.
Another thing that comes to mind about what makes it all work despite how patchwork this “compilation film” functions, is the almost bizarre visual juxtaposition it plays on the viewer. While Yasuomi Umetsu, and crew revamped the series to strong effect in the second chapter/film, there is almost something sly & sneaky about such dark left-field notions placed within an anime so alive with color, and adorned with many a Haruhiko Mikimoto & Toshihiro Hirano Macross-era beauty. Also telling that Ishiguro and company were hard at work on this right off the heels of Do You Remember Love? It might imply a growing distrust of all the success and artifice that was consuming Japanese culture at the time. Not that the anime industry was ever seeing too much of this, save for more eyeball-straining work. At least for this blogger, art is at its most exciting when it is calling out social norms that many don’t seem to bring up as often as some should. Something about the early moments of the film with its wanton shopping, breakdancing, and garish fashion that is almost contradicted by the uptempo-yet-saddened tones of Kumi Miyasato‘s song playing over them. As if it is preparing the viewer to look back at all of this fondly, because none of it is real.
Also worth noting while we’re talking Matrix here; the concept behind a military cover-up, and the role of the relentless officer, BD is something that I had always preferred to be the natural outcome for that film series. The concept that the AI that has created this illusion is in it only for “evil” purposes never rings true, and seeing this concept presented as it is here makes for a much more believable reason. This also leaves the door open for the story to illustrate that after all is said and done, humanity’s greatest enemy has been, and always will be itself. Philosophically, this just makes more sense, and is dramatically more interesting. Now the fact that Megazone 23 never goes all the way with this is a missed opportunity, but I appreciate that it is there. (again, something that is in many ways remedied in Part 2)
So after so many years of having this as something of a personal touchstone title, does it hold up any compared to how I saw it years ago? In many ways, yes and no. The fact that the footage was culled from a scrapped TV production makes for some seriously confused storytelling, and incessant pacing issues muddle things a bit. Not to mention more than a few baffling character beats. It’s a bumpy watch these days to be completely honest. And yet despite all of these problems, it’s all about the attitude, the presentation, and the show’s overall place in the zeitgeist that make for an interesting prototype of a film, rather than a successful one. But it takes some rather big risks for what it is, and how many shows these days can that be said?