Trouble navigating the classics online? Don’t worry. I’m here to help..
After some thought of the many out there (myself included) sharing thoughts on the growing number of streaming anime out there vying for our attention in a steadily growing new point in history for the medium in the states, it only felt right to spend some time sharing thoughts on an often overlooked quantity amidst the rabble. I’m talking of not only some of the shows I grew up with in those simpler times of either catching them via televised signal, or VHS copies lent to me via friends, and even an overlooked wonder that more folks truly need to give some time to. So let’s have at it this month, as we explore some streaming classics to be thankful for!
Space Pirate Captain Harlock
Oh, come on, you know we were going in strong with this one. And for those unfamiliar with Japan’s equivalent to Krypton’s favorite son, one must really spend some more time embracing your inner rebel, and give the adventures of Harlock and the crew of the ever iconic Arcadia a good watch. As a rule, I’m often not the biggest fan of the so-called “romantic hero”, but in the case of the title character, and the sweeping universe created by the one Leiji Matsumoto, it is an intoxicating mix of Japanese idealism & classic derring-do, made all the cooler by way of a fun supporting cast (I’ve had this lifelong kinship in Tochiro Oyama. Can’t help it.) . All the more beguiling for me has always been the universe with which Matsumoto manipulates his characters, and its a universe fraught with human frailty, and longing. Something that few to no other space-borne creations have ever embraced. Like I just mentioned, romantic. There’s no better way to explain it. And the action can still be remarkably brazen. Oh sure, it’s pure pulp, but supercool pulp, with some very interesting time capsule Japan material for the curious.
Fist Of The North Star
There are just some shonen action shows one cannot apologize for. And why bother? Buronson & Hara’s post apocalyptic bloodfest is a super-long, over the top game changer for action shows in the early 1980s. Definitely a product of not only the success of films like George Miller’s Mad Max, but also possibly of Sogo Ishii’s hyper-charged biker flicks with a little Bruce Lee in there for flavor. (not to mention the burgeoning number of violent martial arts video games coming out at this time) Add an eclectic cast of bulky maniacs, some interesting acupuncture-based martial arts, and a supertanker of human plasma, and you have a free-for-all take on the romantic action hero. Kenshiro isn’t merely a classic bad ass, but something of an extension of the kind of hero Harlock is, albeit without any real fear of interloping where he deems it necessary (Akira Kamiya, we love you.). Much more nihilistic in tone than Matsumoto’s signature superhero works, the show can, and often drags at times. But just when one thinks Hokuto no Ken will wander off into atypical Shonen Jump lumbering zombie mode- up comes another increasingly ridiculous villain to hook us into grabbing another bag of popcorn. When one considers just how massively popular this franchise has been after so many years, one owes it to themselves to see what all the noise is about.
Superdimension Fortress Macross
Okay, now this one’s a bit of a cheat, I know. But there’s just something about this unbelievably silly melange of genre & sudsy drama that still packs enough punch to create fans years long after its initial 1982-83 run. Thinking of just how many US fans alone were borne from the near-untouched Macek version of the Macross tale, it makes the head spin, even for one like myself who used to have a strictly set apointment time for this show. (4:30 Monday through Friday) Simply a coming of age tale set amidst a strange mixture of anime standards, the series made noisy the careers of many a notable artist, including Shoji Kawamori, Haruhiko Mikimoto, Kazutaka Miyatake, Toshihiro Hirano, Ichiro Itano, and is almost singlehandedly responsible for the emergence of the anime idol in Mari Iijima. Also possibly the first full-fledged “otaku’s anime”, the show is still an impressive achievement regardless of it’s limitations by today’s technical standards. Another cool thing, is that the show is featured on hulu in three incarnations (including the ADV dub from a few years back featuring a return English performance of Iijima as the Super Idol herself. How often does this happen?) for your convenience. And all headed by none other than stalwart first generation anime director Noboru Ishiguro, need we really say more?
Here in Sub or recent Dub
Hell with that. Gimme my Battloids!
Esteban: Mysterious Cities Of Gold
Now this one isn’t necessarily a major name on my list, but it does have enough nostalgic quality to warrant a recommendation. So often, we hear little to nothing about the shows of DiC, and the French co-productions that came though this bunch long before the Sailor Moons & Power Rangers. (Yes, even 80s cartoon shows like Inspector Gadget, Heathcliff, & Dennis The Menace came from this unlikely alliance.) Airing in Japan at around the same time as Macross in Japan, and based on The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell, Esteban is the tale of a young lad in Barcelona who’s mysterious past is half revealed on the deathbed of the man long thought to be his father. Little Esteban is shocked to discover that not only he was adopted, but rescued from a sinking ship, and possibly linked to the mythical land of El Dorado, the golden city long held to be a South American legend. Almost immediately, he is en route to discovering more about his past by way of the man who had rescued him, a navigator named Mendoza who’s motives are anything but clear. Soon, Esteban experiences a most unusual set of adventures and makes some unique friends on the way, including a kidnapped Inca princess, and the last remnant of a vanished culture. The show, while far from great, does have in its arsenal some great story to spare. Not to mention a great deal of brain fuel for kids. Remembering this from its days here as part of Nick Jr. are filled with thoughts of summer for some reason, and it is hard to resist in areas, even if the music is a bit on the cloying side. And of course, the US version also comes with some quasi-historical cappers for each episode that border on laughable now, but is a fascinating new way of looking at how anime was utilized in the localization game oh so long ago. Oh, and the finale is pretty awesome. Seriously worth checking out.
Nobody’s Boy: Remi
Oh boy, I never imagined this one ever making it over here, but if there’s ever a massive coup for bringing a truly classic series here, this is it. This mother of a show (and I mean that in a multitude of ways) is a brutal reminder of the power of the anime artform, and its will to wring the emotions in the most amazing ways. It’s back to the late 70s , it was a time when anime knew how to lay it on thick, and this tale is of the kind that legends are made. So much of what we know and love (or hate) about tragic tales in the animated form is laid bare in this, also a tale of a young orphan in old France, who discovers that his parents aren’t who he thought they were, thus beginning a journey that is both heartbreaking, and strengthening. Directed by the usually action oriented Osamu Dezaki, and based upon the book Sans Famille by Hector Malot, this is the counterpoint to classics such as Candy Candy & Heidi. It is understandable that many may wish to dismiss a show like this today, but it must be said that after all the gimmickry & flash boils down in most shows, I’d be bold enough to say that anime hasn’t had this kind of go-for-broke emotional storytelling in many years. Remi is an often devastating show that delivers the emotional goods with enough aplomb, and hope for an entire year’s worth of shows. Dog Of Flanders has nothing on this beast.
Getting my Kleenex crate right now..
Lastly on my little list…I just had to save this for last.
Galaxy Express 999
It’s back to Leiji Matsumoto with his eternal companion piece to the Harlock saga with a much more personal tale of life, and the neverending series of lessons that can be learned merely by going out into the world (or in this case, across the expansive bounds of deep space!). The legend of young Tetsuro Hoshino, and his longing for a mechanized chassis takes a nasty turn when his poor mother is gunned down by game hunting Count Mecha. Burning with thoughts of revenge, his initial dreams of going machine are warped into plans of revenge, and his fateful meeting of mysterious beauty Maetel may either be the door toward achieving his deepest wishes, or destroy him in the process. Matsumoto’s legendary manga is another piece of longing for a Japan that had been experiencing great change in a mere few decades, and uses the visage of growing up in space as metaphor for this dramatically changing landscape. And the anime series directed by the often wonderful Rin Taro, plays like a most unique operatic/concert experience regarding the journey of life, and the price of our collective dreams. Later made into perhaps my personal favorite anime feature film of all time, GE999 may come off as more than a little overtly conservative to some, and intermittently insane to others, but it is a truly dreamlike & challenging journey where the hits often outweigh the misses, and deserves a firm place in history. Oh, and it also features Harlock, Ooyama & Emeraldas from time to time. ‘Nuff said.
And now for a little something extra:
At Your Own Peril:
Okay, now even though this is by many a classic series, to see Tomino’s claim to fame dubbed and edited in this manner still smarts to this day. But if you’re curious as to the Mobile Suit Gundam origins, and not ready to break out the wallet for some pricey imports, I suppose this is a nice, quick way to get acquainted.
That said, sweet mother of crap, Seriously guys. All this makes me think of is this.
Now on the slightly better side is the treatment that was given to the 85-86 sequel, which in many ways is almost better than the adored original! There’s not a great deal here that hasn’t been said before, but I do love the series in ways that the later shows just couldn’t hold a glow-stick to. Only one problem, the lack of proper opening animation and music. I can only surmise that the music licensing was a bit too steep, thus leaving us with this strange opening. So in the name of complet-ism , here you go!
Join me next time, as we continue to explore some more favorites that are out there if we look hard enough. So much out there worth supporting. With hope, we can see an even more diverse library of titles for fans to sink their teeth into!
This belated post is dedicated to the memory of the one and only Yoshinobu Nishizaki. One way or another, you were an inspiration. We salute you.