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Errinundra's Beautiful Fighting Girl #133: Taiman Blues: Ladies' Chapter - Mayumi


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Beltane70



Joined: 07 May 2007
Posts: 3921
PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2019 9:49 pm Reply with quote
Wow, Blue Sonnet is a title that I haven’t heard someone mention in a long, long time!
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Errinundra
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Joined: 14 Jun 2008
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2019 7:23 am Reply with quote
@ horseradish & Beltane70,

I've added Blue Sonnet (and Esper Mami) to the list.


Last edited by Errinundra on Thu Jul 22, 2021 4:14 am; edited 1 time in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2019 2:16 am Reply with quote
Beautiful Fighting Girls index
****

Beautiful Fighting Girl #57: Yumi Hanazono



Magical Idol Pastel Yumi

Synopsis: School girl Yumi Hanazono is a dab hand with drawing. Her parents run a florist shop and cafe from their house and from her father Yumi has also inherited a love of flowers. Two cat-like elves from the Flower Planet reward her devotion with a magical wand and pendant that, when she draws the shape of an object in the air with the wand, create the object for her use for a short time before vanishing. Like any young girl Yumi has challenges in her life - family, school, boys and even irascible neighbours. Her new magical power offers a tempting solution to these challenges but she must beware of the consequences and watch out for the magic wearing off.

Production details:
Premiere: 07 March 1986
Director:Akira Shigino
Studio: Pierrot
Series composition: Shoji Imai
Music Koji Makaino
Character design and animation director: Yumiko Hirosawa (or Horasawa, or Horazawa, depending on the source)
Art Director: Satoshi Miura
Art design: Seiji Sato

Comments: Magical Idol Pastel Yumi is the fourth Studio Pierrot magical girl heroine. She will also be the last until 1998's Fancy Lala. By this time Pierrot had become comfortable within the skin of the genre. So much so, this iteration shares Toei's tendency to rely upon formulae, albeit with higher technical merits. Pastel Yumi condenses Pierrot's, by now, trademark magical girl elements into 25 episodes that barely stretch, or even try to stretch, the boundaries of the genre. You get their typical tomboyish girl as the only child of loving parents who run a young-viewer-friendly small business from the ground floor of their doll house-like home. They have a chunky, but rounded flower van that looks like an oversized Fisher-Price toy - presumably ripe for toy sales along with the house. She meets two small, cute, sassy magical animals that reward her with a wand and pendant that look just like all the previous ones, recites a four word incantation with lots of "p"s in it, and dances about in a routine cloned from Ashi Pro's Fairy Princess Minky Momo and but a variation on the previous two Pierrot magical girls (though it does add a leitmotif song to go with the waving of the wand). There's an older boy whom Yumi idolises, but who treats her with a kindly, deferential distance, and a chubby classmate who loves her but can't penetrate her obtuseness. On top of all that there's the typical clownish adult antagonists - I wouldn't call them villains - who cause many of the problems Yumi must overcome.


Top: Yumi and her two romantic interests - the Misawa brothers, Kenta and Kyohei.
Middle: Yumi and the two Flower Planet mascot characters, Kakimaru and Keshimaru.
Bottom: Mrs Fukurokoji and her valet Kunimitsu hit the dance floor; the former berates Yumi (the gas mask is because she's allergic to flowers).


One important ingredient is missing though and, given that Pastel Yumi otherwise follows the Pierrot magical girl recipe, it's a substantial one - Yumi doesn't transform. With that one stroke, much of the flavour of the studio's approach to the genre dissipates. Sure, there are magical girl anime that don't involve the heroine changing into something different and more potent, but, in this instance, the series is diminished by its absence. At the very least we lose the eye candy transformed version of the girl, but, more importantly, the heroine is no longer torn between her everyday self and a possible other self and no longer must she deceive her family, friends and associates. The series attempts to replace these tensions by making her spells ephemeral - for example, the magical hot-air balloon in which she's flying may disappear mid-air - but this replaces a character based dilemma with a superficial, mechanics based hazard.

The superficiality extends to the production. The whole magical girl premise is set up in a perfunctory manner: in the first episode Yumi wanders from a carnival to a field of tulips where she meets the fairies Kakimaru and Keshimaru who give her magical powers simply for her love of flowers, which she doesn't demonstrate thereafter - hey a school girl has other things on her mind! Frankly, her father is much more deserving of the reward. The fairies aren't facing any existential threat - although a crisis is manufactured for the last two episodes that lands the entire cast on the Flower Planet. Yumi doesn't have a time limit on her magical ability other than the temporary nature of the spells themselves, nor any sanction if she's caught using her magic. While she takes care not to be seen using her wand, she and Pierrot are more than happy that other characters endure the cognitive dissonance of experiencing things that should not be. For example, an adult must open at least nine doors to get into her daughter's bedroom as Yumi awaits anxiously within for the daughter to climb back in through the window. The mother is simply left to deal with the apparitions on her own. That's not a criticism in itself - the aberrations fit the show's humour - but it does suggest that the studio isn't putting as much care into this production as their previous efforts. This is further evidenced by the second half of the series with its bland story lines and uninspired artwork - often it appears that felt pens have replaced watercolours for the backgrounds. The second half of the 25 episode series has no less than three recap episodes. I get the sense that the studio staff had lost interest and wanted to move onto more interesting projects. (Kimagure Orange Road perhaps? They share important staff.)


A hippie element runs throughout Magical Idol Pastel Yumi.
Top: Yumi's flower power parents in the florist shop and on a date when they were younger.
Middle: the Hanazono shop, home and van; and Yumi's grandfather's tree home.
Bottom: the Queen of the Flower Planet; and Yumi's grandfather.


Please don't think that this is an anime from hell. Far from it. The shortcomings are apparent when comparing Pastel Yumi with the earlier Pierrot shows. So, while it lacks the identity tensions of Magical Angel Creamy Mami, the anarchic fish-out-of-water humour of the early episodes of Magical Fairy Persia or the unexpected melancholy of Magical Star Magical Emi, it has enough of the studio's best attributes - among them character designs and personalities, background artwork, narratives and humour - to place it ahead of most of its Toei counterparts from the previous decade. Really, none of the Toei magical girls can match Yumi for simple viewer appeal, with her spritely, innocent and expressive ways. And even if the characters fit the Pierrot mould, they are entertaining nonetheless. That said, three of the secondary characters - all clownish in their behaviour - do break some new ground for the studio. Yumi's grandfather is an eccentric, recently retired adventurer who lives in a tree house and - exasperated by his son's floral predisposition - encourages her tomboyish behaviour. This - it should come as no surprise - triggers all sorts of situations where Yumi gets in over her head. (Cue magic!) Initially his personality quirks are reminiscent of the sleazy old men to be found in Go Nagai shows, but he quickly proves himself otherwise. He will come to fill that marvellous role of the adult who accepts the child's worldview without question and becomes a pillar of support. More ambiguous are the wealthy, rotund Mrs Fukurokoji and her set upon valet Kunimitsu. Somehow their names seem to me to be both sexually suggestive and ridiculous. The wowserish, unlucky in love, flower sensitive Mrs Fukurkoji lives in a mansion behind a high wall, coming out to terrorise the children with her demands and admonitions. Like the grandfather she sets up episode narratives and, as a comic character, she will suffer no end of comeuppances and humiliations. As the series progresses she becomes more thoroughly realised as a character and more sympathetic. The source of her aversion to flowers, when finally revealed, is simultaneously comic and sad, and becomes a metaphor for her fear of intimacy. So, yes, there are little gems to found from time to time. In addition, Yumi's parents break some ground for Pierrot with the father being soft-hearted and gentle and the mother, while thoroughly domesticated, is much the sharper and stronger of the two. You might describe them as a couple of hippies who've settled into a comfortable and apathetic middle-class life.

Finally, I just want to point out that a frequent tune heard throughout the the first half of the series is a note by note rip-off, without any accreditation, of the entire Moviestar by the Swedish pop-singer Harpo. It's the most brazen example I've encountered so far in the survey.

Rating: not really good
+ characters, particularly Yumi and Mrs Fukurokoji; comedy when at its best.
- generally inferior to the previous Pierrot magical girl shows in story, themes, art and magical implications; perfunctory set up, tacked-on climax in the last two episodes; three re-cap episodes over the previous ten.

If you're looking to check out the Pierrot magical girl shows, I'd recommend starting with Magical Angel Creamy Mami, which is the stand out among them.

Resources:
ANN
The font of all knowledge
The Anime Encyclopaedia, Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy, Stone Bridge Press via Kindle
Pierrot official website



Last edited by Errinundra on Tue Feb 15, 2022 4:40 am; edited 4 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 25, 2019 2:07 am Reply with quote
Beautiful Fighting Girl #58: Elfie



Coral Reef Legend: Elfie of the Blue Sea

Synopsis: Far into the future, rising sea levels have left humans living on floating cities and relying, with the assistance of trained dolphins, on the intensive farming of fish for their survival. Elfie's idyllic life on a coral atoll is upturned when, after an encounter with a shark, she discovers she can breathe underwater (signified by her hair transforming from brunette to turquoise). Things are further upended when her supposed grandfather reveals her foundling circumstances. When one of the leaders of the city of Neptune decides to massively expand the fish farms with a view to dominating the other floating cities, the dolphins - fomented by underwater dwelling, sea-breathing people - begin to revolt. With war about to erupt between the air-breathers and water-breathers, Elfie - as the one connection between the two civilisations - intervenes by connecting them psychically. This will come at a great cost to her.

Production details:
Premiere: 19 May 1986
Director: Yoshio Koroda (Sinbad the Sailor, Ken the Wolf Boy, Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon, A Dog of Flanders among others)
Studio: Nipppon Animation
Script: Nobuyuki Fujimoto
Music: Toshiyuki Watanabe
Character Design: Yoichi Kotabe (Horus - Prince of the Sun, Heide - Girl of the Alps, Marco - from the Apennines, Chie the Brat before joining director Kunihiko Yuyama as animation supervisor on the Pokemon franchise)
Art Director: Nobuo Numai
Animation Director: Kenzo Koizumi and Takao Ogawa
Mechanical design: Kenzo Koizumi (prolific key animator and animation director who began his career in the sixties and continued into the early years of the 21st century)
Scene Setting: Yasuji Mori, whom we've encountered before - a veteran from Nichido Eigasha (the precursor to Toei) and mentor to Isao Takahato, who descibed his influence on anime as "incalculable".

Note: I watched this on YouTube via a fansub of a French dub. How faithful either are to the original is anyone's guess.

Comments: This obscure TV movie brought together anime veterans from the 60s and 70s in a tale where Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind meets Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. Not without merit on its own, it lacks the sophistication and cohesion of Nausicaä's synthesis of character, narrative and message or Marina's emotive pull. And, being made for TV, it lacks the budget to match the visual qualities of either of those cinema productions, especially Nausicaä. Miyazaki's heroine is the obvious inspiration for the titular protagonist of Coral Reef Legend: Elfie of the Blue Sea. Like Nausicaä, Elfie is orphaned, identifies closely with her environment (in this case the ocean and its wildlife), and becomes a mediator between the opposing worlds of the technologically advanced humans in their constrained cities and the more rudimentary yet harmonious world of the sea people in their boundless oceans. To this you can add a catastrophe from 400 years ago where human greed and indifference caused the sudden rising of sea levels that submerged everything on the planet save the highest altitudes. (Compare with the Seven Days of Fire.) There's a ruthless leader who, ignoring the entreaties of the protagonist, would happily rush headlong into further catastrophe for the sake of their ambition. Lastly, Elfie will place herself between two irresistible forces.


The principal characters (clockwise from left): the vulnerable, sexualised girl is about to have her extraordinary powers exposed;
Charisma seeks to engineer a dominant role for the floating city of Neptune; Elfie's best friend Alcus in a carefree pose; and
Elfie's "grandfather" Nereus.


The problem is Elfie, as a character, isn't up to the demands of the narrative. She's pleasant enough and conscientious enough to sleep walk her way through the anime without ever convincing me that she has an interior world processing all the expected hopes, thoughts, fears and attitudes. An outsider, she has few solid relationships that define her place in her world. Her only family is the old man who plucked her from her dead mother's side. Her one friend - Alcus, the boy who loves her dearly - is frustrated by her remoteness. (This is accentuated by the anime's typical location of the characters in the middle distance of the frame. Close-ups like those above are unusual. Compare them with their placement in images below.) One of the surest routes to appreciate a fictional character is through our enjoyment of their relationships with others. Because the anime doesn't convincingly establish these, we must rely upon Elfie's personality, which, with some exceptions where Alcus succeeds in getting her to laugh, ranges from sober to dour and fearful to appalled, or upon her admittedly notable and courageous deeds. Perhaps I'm expecting too much from Elfie, but Nausicaä has it all - a convincing interior world, solid relationships, memorable personality, courageous actions and she's a great character design to boot - this last clearly a template for Elfie.

Neither father-figure Nereus nor boyfriend Alcus add much to the movie, both being conventional characters without much in the way of quirks. Perhaps they are meant to provide some grounding in what is a fantastic story, but grandfatherly Nereus is impotent in the face of Charisma's ambition, while Alcus is little more than a love interest hanging on to the coattails of the protagonist. I suppose I must give the anime some credit - usually it's the female who fills this disposable role. More interesting is the antagonist, the appropriately named Charisma who successfully manages to combine, in contrast to every other demurely attired adult, a camp flashiness with a seeming contradictory self-assured severity. Traditionally a camp persona was used as a signal to undermine credibility by suggesting a weakness of character. These days the trope is treated more sceptically, thus dating the character significantly. That said, as the most complex character of the film, Charisma garnered some appreciation from this viewer. By presenting his ambitions as a desire to promote the welfare of the city of Neptune - which, like many a skillful politician, may be a front - rather than merely self-aggrandisement, he remains sinister without risking being ridiculous. His manipulation of the crowd at Elfie's staged trial is a highlight of the anime, made ever more piquant by the girl's manacled body and subsequent test by drowning as if she were a witch. In the final wash-up, though, his road to Damascus moment isn't convincing, compounded by the fantastical nature of its cause.

Given the extensive experience of the central creative team it should come as little surprise that the film has a retro look about it, almost as if they were forlornly attempting to reinstate stylistic values from a former age. The cityscapes and machinery would fit in with the Cyborg 009's 1960s vision of the future, with swooping lines and flowing curves - quite unlike the chunkier aesthetic introduced with the giant robots of Go Nagai and Yoshiyuki Tomino. In profile the submarine Noah is highly suggestive of Gerry and Silvia Anderson's Stingray, which dates right back to 1964. Indeed you could go back further and relate some of Kenzo Koizumi's mechanical designs to American car tailfins of the 1950s. The Neptune soldiers look something out of a 1970s Go Nagai show (even if the mechanical designs don't). Similarly Charisma and other supporting characters look dated even for the 1980s. There isn't a single feral forehead fringe, so beloved of Rumiko Takahashi, to be seen anywhere.


Clockwise from top left: Elfie visits the sea people; compare this image of Elfie on her powered boogie board with Nausicaä and her mehve;
Nereus's submarine Noah is straight out of the sixties; Elfie and her dolphin friend Parpina; Elfie finds herself caught between two battle forces; and
the arrest of Nereus at the instigation of Charisma.


While the environmental and anti-war messages are worthy, and the notion of catastrophic rising sea levels as a result of human behaviour prescient for 1986, the film comes across as preachy compared with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The themes aren't as well integrated into the narrative and Elfie lacks the scientist / revolutionary / visionary / warrior sides to her nature so isn't able to carry much in the way of ideological luggage. The message is still hugely relevant in an age where people would rather latch onto the blandishments of self-serving and compromised politicians than listen to expert opinion that asks us to modify our comfortable way of life.

The final thing I'd like to mention is the frustrating soundtrack. The yearning soundscapes and their arrangements often attractive enough to verge on the exceptional, without ever quite managing it. Composer Toshiyuki Watanabe's efforts always fall short of that indefinable melody or harmony that would transcend the base material. It may be me. Perhaps I'm subconsciously trying to impose an unreasonable tonality onto the poor man. You might consider the problem as a metaphor for the film generally.

Rating: not really good
+ worthy environmental and pacifist messages, soundtrack, occasionally attractive scenes
- consider it Nausicaä Lite

Resources:
ANN
The font of all knowledge
The Anime Encyclopaedia, Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy, Stone Bridge Press via Kindle




Last edited by Errinundra on Tue Feb 15, 2022 4:41 am; edited 4 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 31, 2019 7:24 am Reply with quote
Beautiful Fighting Girls #59: Vampire Maris and Zombie Sue



Maris the Chojo
(aka The Supergal)

Synopsis: Maris is a member of the vast diaspora from the planet Thanatos that exploded when she was a child. Normal in most other ways, Maris, like her compatriots, has such enormous strength she unintentionally damages anything she touches so, in order to live a normal life, she wears electronic restraints that limit her powers. With her companion - a nine-tailed fox with the ability to transform - she travels the galaxy as a cop for the Space Patrol, where she has plenty of scope to use her powers in apprehending villains and destroying her equipment. This leads her into constant debt with her employer. A mission to rescue a billionaire's marriageable son suggests a possible escape from a life of poverty. Catch is, the kidnapper is a former vanquished foe - Zombie Sue - from Maris's days as a professional wrestler. When the vengeful Zombie Sue succeeds in permanently locking the restraints, Maris finds herself at the receiving end of a wrestling beat down intended to slowly and painfully break her.

Production details:
Premiere: 21 May 1986
Director: Motosuke Takahashi and Kazuyoshi Katayama
Studio: Pierrot
Source material: Za Supagyaru, publised in Weekly Shōnen Sunday in October 1980 by Rumiko Takahashi (Urusei Yatsura, Mermaid Forest, Fire Tripper, Maisson Ikkoku, Ranma ½, The Laughing Target, Mermaid's Scar, Inuyasha and RIN-NE among others)
Script: Hideo Takayashiki and Tomoko Konparu
Music: Ichiro Nitta
Character Design: Katsumi Aoshima and Rumiko Takahashi
Art Director: Torao Arai
Animation Director: Motosuke Takahashi


Clockwise from top left:
Lieutenant Maris receives a broadcast from her boss, the Colonel - his real appearance comes as a surprise;
in this photo taken by the kidnapper, her victim doesn't seem too concerned about his predicament;
Murphy - the nine-tailed, shape-changing fox - enjoys tormenting Maris; and
Zombie Sue's confederate in the kidnapping is a wannabe villain inspired by Char Aznable.


Comments: We are now in the heart of 1980s shlock - from no less than Rumiko Takahashi, naturally. In spite of Maris the Chojo's questionable portrayal of its female characters - and the tortures it puts them through - or its narrative non-sequiturs or even its brazen debt to Dirty Pair, the moment the OAV declares, "This is not a true story" and the portentous (and tonally misleading) synthesised music ramps up for the opening credits, I'm hooked. Of the five anime branded as part of the Rumic World franchise, this gives me the most enjoyment - even if I'd rate the Morio Asaka helmed Mermaid's Scar higher for its chilling undercurrents - simply because it alone refuses to take itself seriously. From the get go it's out to have fun and the 80s cheesiness is an integral part of the package. Of course, the downside is that if the 1980s style of excess isn't your cup of tea, then you may feel like you're drowning in poop, rather than, as Justin Sevakis puts it so neatly in his article on The Humanoid, "roll in it like a dog".

The immediate inspiration is the original Dirty Pair, which first aired the year before. More likely, Takahashi's one-shot manga from October 1980 was inspired by Haruka Takachiho first novel in the series, The Dirty Pair's Great Adventures, serialised in 1979 and published in book form in May 1980. Not only does Maris look and behave at times like Kei while her major adversary - Zombie Sue - is a bleached hair version of Yuri, but she is forever conned by her superior officer to take on more cases to pay for the debts she has accrued. Maris and Sue not only sport wrestling outfits, the climax of the OAV is an enormously entertaining, bone-crunching wrestling match (as if Rumiko wanted all along to pit Yuri agaisnt Kei). And why does Maris have so much debt? Everything she touches is destroyed, of course, just like her more famous predecessors. What's missing is the artful wordplay between Yuri and Kei. As enemies Maris and Sue cannot match the insinuating barbs that the very close relationship within the Lovely Angels team allows. The appeal of Maris the Chojo lies elsewhere: in its humour, which ranges from slapstick to goofy to surreal to referential, along with a rollicking 1980s soundtrack and, mostly, to that wrestling match.


Maris's fits of rage and moments of blank incomprehension are balanced by an appealing, wistful melancholy.

The comedy can be hit and miss. The scene where the giant warrior pisses himself when confronted by the diminutive native of Thanatos is both tacky and laboured. Maris's response almost sounds like an admission from the writers that it didn't work. You might also miss some of the arcane references. Gundam's Char Aznable or the earlier shout-outs to Urusei Yatsura in the surreal but amusing beach scenes on the planet Oween may be obvious, but others are much more subtle. When the synthesised music in the OP at one point mutates into a Tangerine Dream styled sequencer pattern it's accompanied by an animated reproduction of the back cover of the band's Rubycon album. That is so random! It doesn't have any relevance to the anime whatsoever. Few people would have picked it up even in 1986, let alone 2019. Perhaps not as arcane, but certainly more pertinent to the narrative are the pair of scenes where Maris's mother pleads for money to pay for damages caused when her father neglects to wear his strength restraints. First time around Maris coughs up. When she declines the second time, the background music morphs into the synthesiser altered organ solo from the Who's Won't Get Fooled Again. I'm left wondering how many gags have gone straight past me. My favourite scene, after the wrestling match, is the aforementioned beach sequence with its drum-machine driven dance song Buin Buin Buin (or Bween Bween Bween, depending on the source) by Kilala and Ulala. It might be little more than filler but the combination of shout-outs, perspective jolts, surreal juxtapositions and black humour make it a highlight. Especially so, when it follows a stale sequence where Maris and Murphy extort money from a sugar daddy. The post-wrestling denouement, with its predictable plot twist and disappointment for Maris ends the OAV on a disappointing note, although the ED "bloopers" are something of an innovation.

How Maris and her litany of travails are presented have an important role in setting up the viewer for the climactic wrestling match. She's broke and falling further into debt as the narrative unfolds. I can imagine something like a taxi meter ticking over with each misplaced step or careless swat of the arm. Her boss is ripping her off mercilessly, her companion spends his time taunting her, her mother is an idiot, her father a drunkard and she has no homeland to return to. Her absurd fantasy of marrying a billionaire's son can only end badly. Through all this she figuratively picks herself from the floor time and again (she will, literally, later) with a smile and a native, and probably unwarranted, optimism. Until the next setback that is, when the process is repeated. Her resilience through all the injustices she endures earns sympathy from the viewer. She may have her rages, her coarseness, her misplaced enthusiasms and her moments of obtuseness, but there's also a sweetness, a generosity and a strain of sadness that makes her endearing. You might consider her a downmarket version of the heroine from Frederico Fellini's NIghts of Cabiria. (Forgive my pretensions, please.) Her alabaster skin, rounded figure and her pastel green bikini gives her a softness and an incongruous fragility that accentuate the vulnerability I've suggested above. So, yes, she's an early example in this survey where of the moe traits of a character are central to her role in the narrative, which shouldn't be surprising given that she comes from the imagination of Rumiko Takahashi. That's the set up. How successful the OAV is will be up to the individual viewer.


Top left: that intense moment of recognition when two people meant for each other meet.
Thereafter: the consummation of their relationship.


What follow is five minutes of brutal smack down set to an instrumental version of the jaunty Buin Buin Buin. The comic presentation does little to mitigate the savagery yet it is, admittedly, highly entertaining. I won't go into details of the choreography as the images above will give you a good idea what to expect. The result is two women doing their best to harm each other (well, mostly It's just one of them). Their soft, female forms magnifies for the viewer the pain they must feel under the many blows, in much the same way that the battle between two old men - Gandalf and Saruman in the vaults of Orthanc in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings - has me wincing as I view it. Further, by establishing Maris as something of a moe character, the pummelling she receives is all the more shocking. There's something tantalising about seeing two women beat the shit out of each and, equally, something disturbing that I might be amused by it. I am standing apart from Maris, enjoying her predicament. Her foolishness, her status as victim, her moe persona mean that she cannot match the fully realised and human female characters we have met and will meet elsewhere in this survey.

Rating: decent
+ surreal humour, the jaunty soundtrack with its 1980s drum machines and dance beats, the wrestling match at the climax, on balance Maris's character
- nonsensical plot, uninteresting characters outside of Maris, sexist portrayal of the female characters

Resources:
ANN
The font of all knowledge
The Anime Encyclopaedia, Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy, Stone Bridge Press via Kindle



Last edited by Errinundra on Tue Feb 15, 2022 4:42 am; edited 4 times in total
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Beltane70



Joined: 07 May 2007
Posts: 3921
PostPosted: Sat Aug 31, 2019 10:57 am Reply with quote
I can’t believe that you didn’t mention the best part, the “outtakes” from the end credits!
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 31, 2019 6:53 pm Reply with quote
Yes I did!

Errinundra wrote:
The post-wrestling denouement, with its predictable plot twist and disappointment for Maris ends the OAV on a disappointing note, although the ED "bloopers" are something of an innovation.


Confused

But, yeah, I could and should have been more enthusiastic about them.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2019 6:26 am Reply with quote
Beautiful Fighting Girl #60: Eiko Magami, aka A-ko



Project A-ko

Synopsis: A-ko and her best friend Shiko Kotobuki (aka C-ko) are new students at Graviton City High School, which overlooks an enormous crater left by an interstellar impact sixteen years earlier. In that short period the city has become a world centre of high tech development. Not only do the two stand out in their sailor suits, but superhuman A-ko is faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, (though she can't fly). Unbeknownst to them one of their new classmates - Biko Daitokuji (aka B-ko) - still harbours pathological rejection issues from their shared former kindergarten days. An engineering genius and daughter of a fabulously wealthy business mogul, B-ko sets out to destroy A-ko and steal the affections of C-ko by any means possible - usually by building ever more elaborate mecha and, failing that, a ludicrously skimpy power suit. If that isn't complicated enough, an alien spy in a trench coat has been stalking C-ko. He's convinced she's the long lost Lepton princess from Alpha Cygni so summons a gigantic starship to launch an assault force on Graviton City to recover her. As the violence between A-ko and B-ko intensifies they find themselves inevitably drawn into the battle between the alien invaders and the desperate defenders of the city.

Production details:
Premiere: 21 June 1986
Director: Katsuhiko Nishijima (key animation Cream Lemon - POP♥CHASER, director Project A-ko: Uncivil Wars, Hono no Tenkosei, Armoured Dragon Legend Villgust, Sailor Victory, Graduation, Megami Paradise, Agent Aika, Labyrinth of the Flames, Najica Blitz Tactics, Office Lingerie, Kirameki Project, AIKa R-16: Virgin Mission, G-Taste, Nozoki Ana.
Studio: APPP (Cream Lemon, Robot Carnival, Roujin Z and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure; these days mainly a subcontractor)
Screenplay: Katsuhiko Nishijima, Tomoko Kawasaki &Yuji Moriyama (see below)
Music: Joey Carbone, Richie Zito & Toru Akasaka
Original story: Katsuhiko Nishijima & Kazumi Shirasaka
Character Design: Yuji Moriyama (very prolific animation director, character designer and key animator - see ANN page)
Art Director: Shinji Kimura
Animation Director: Yuji Moriyama


Clockwise from left: A-ko, B-ko, C-ko, and the sort of thing that get's up B-ko's nose.

Comments: Project A-ko began as a pitch by Nishijima, Moriyama and Shirasaka for the pornographic Cream Lemon franchise, but the comic potential of the material wound up justifying a mainstream release. Good thing too, as the final product turned out to be a pinnacle of the 1980s overblown, absurd action comedies populated with clownish fighting girls, easily overshadowing its template, Dirty Pair, for sheer entertainment. And, not just the 1980s. If you don't mind the design preferences of the era, Project A-ko stacks up well against any of anime's myriad examples in the 30 odd years since. Traces of the Cream Lemon influence can still be detected in the film and Nishijima's later career would see him veering between pornography and more mainstream television anime. Even the latter are notable for their high levels of fanservice. We'll be meeting him, along with his signature trope of the very frequent, gratuitous panty shot (think Najica Blitz Tactics) from time to time as the survey progresses. While Project A-ko is perhaps a little more sparing in its use than his later works, it does contain what is easily the funniest example I have ever seen, when A-ko, falling out of the sky, lands, with legs akimbo, on the canopy of a fighter plane in mid flight (see images at the top and bottom of the post).

A mainstream release wasn't the only fortuitous change. Initially slated as an OAV, at some point it was decided to upgrade the production to a cinema release. The Eastern Star DVD includes a fascinating commentary track from Yuji Moriyama, who sheds light on the chaotic circumstances behind the production. The first problem was that they didn't even have a script, only some ideas for the shorter OAV. Despite the credits I've provided above and as they appear in the film's OP, no script was ever written. Instead, the whole thing was largely improvised as they went along. Moriyama claims credit for much of the story, stating that he took the initial ideas and storyboarded them into ever escalating absurdity, intuitively allowing the characters and situations to develop without planning. He describes the outcome as being the result of "divine intervention". Individual storyboarded scenes were then farmed out to the key animators who were given the liberty to animate them pretty much as they pleased. The second problem (a problem, that is, depending on your point of view) was that, due to other commitments, none of the senior staff were available for the project. So it was that a bunch of young animators (Nishijima, Moriyama and most of the key animators were in their 20s, one was only 19, and four were women, which was unusual for the time) found themselves with a cinema project, a healthy budget - there was no cel limit - and an uncommon level of artistic freedom. They set out to have fun and it shows in the result - one of the most fun anime ever made. Moriyama also mentions two other motivating factors for the young staff. First, they were all of the Macross generation and believed that it had pointed the way to new standards in animation, both in detail and aesthetics. The industry was still dominated by an older generation with fusty notions of what anime should be. (A good example of this would be the recently reviewed Coral Reef Legend: Elfie of the Blue Sea, which is, despite its experienced staff, insipid and moribund by comparison.) This would be an opportunity for young animators to put their vision into practice. Second, the teams of animators become intensely competitive, with each trying to outdo the others in the detail and complexity of their animation.


A-ko's singular method of aerial movement.

The story moves somewhat more leisurely in the first half, taking its time to establish its characters and to connect the three main narrative threads. This is mildly exacerbated by the ploy to begin with and initially present the alien spaceship scenario as deadpan serious space opera. A-ko's subsequent appearance as she wakes, dresses and prepares of her school day is so mundane by comparison that it seems off-kilter (which is the intention, of course), reinforced by her soon to be displayed superpowers and her collision with Agent D (who constitutes the third thread). Steadily though, the anime escalates the action, the absurdity, the comedy and the violence. By the time B-ko reveals her ridiculous power suit - Moriyama observes that the top couldn't possibly stay up - the film has firmly hit its stride. From here on in be prepared for a wild ride, beginning with a reprise of the smack down in Maris the Chojo. It's every bit as brutal, except funnier, better choreographed and complicated deliriously by its high school setting. Meanwhile things are getting dicey above the earth as the aliens retaliate against the human attacks, leading to an invasion of Graviton City. Their spider tanks (appearing here well before Ghost in the Shell) are invincible until they become mere tools to be tossed about in the ongoing battle between A-ko and B-ko. The conjunction of the two battles is a new absurdly funny high point and you might think it couldn't get better. But it does. When the two girls call a truce and decide to fly to the alien mother ship to rescue C-ko, Project A-ko, in the space of two minutes, takes the ridiculous to a sublime level. B-ko's power suit can fly her there, but A-ko has a harder time of it, hitching rides on fighter planes and hopping from missile to missile. Moriyama credits key animator Tsukasa Dokite and claims that none other than Osamu Tezuka complimented the scene. It blew me away the first time I saw it, and I must have replayed it forty or more times by now. Crazy, wonderful, lunatic stuff.

Project A-ko is also famous for its spoofs of popular anime. In his commentary Moriyama points out that copyright law in Japan was quite lax at the time. He bemoans that current standards would no longer permit such a film. What you get goes beyond simple shout outs, which were and still are common. No, Project A-ko is taking the piss, from the Leijiverse to Macross to Fist of the North Star. Creamy Mami speaking gibberish in the classroom is odd enough, and her frustrated screaming at her students is somehow satisfying given the original's sweetly composed demeanour, but Kenshiro as a prissy speaking school girl is brilliant - just the prick someone as pompous as him so thoroughly needs. Moriyama points out others I had no idea about. The film loses little if you don't recognise the sources - there's plenty more happening on screen to amuse. All the while, the mayhem is accompanied by as cheesy a soundtrack that ever blessed a 1980s anime. Put together by Americans Richie Zito and Joey Carbone who deftly match the excess and absurdity on show, it's as if the music knows how ridiculous it all is and wants to add its own self-aware cheese. Best track is "Explosion" which blends dance floor techno beats with a melody that lies somewhere between Kiss and Giorgio Moroder (with whom Zito closely worked).


Central to the film are its many, many spoofs. Clockwise from top left:
an alcoholic female Captain Harlock, a gibberish speaking Magical Angel Creamy Mami,
Fist of the North Star muscle-bound jock as school girl, and
Power suited B-ko interrupts the brothel operator (now a teacher) from the POP♥CHASER segment of Cream Lemon.


The characters, while fun, are limited by the genre, their narrative roles and the market for which they are intended - hormonal young men. Generally cheerful A-ko finds herself constantly beset by problems not of her own making. She has a wide-eyed victim's innocence that, combined with her athleticism, reminded me of Jackie Chan (the anime was named after his film Project A). Even when she gets her dander up she fights with a mixture of optimism and comic surprise, again reminiscent of Chan. B-ko is the most complex of the characters, resigned to her fate as villain even if it goes against her sense of self, her pride and her aesthetic values. For all her smarts, she's a loser and she knows it, which makes her a sympathetic character. Certainly more so than C-ko whose role is little more than a prop for everyone else to scheme over. She's a whiny, immature, self-centred brat. That's the joke of course - the most annoying character is the one everyone else regards as the most desirable. Agent D is problematic. His, or should I say her, exaggerated African features would draw comments these days, especially given her clownish dull-wittedness. When she's revealed as a very muscular woman - all the aliens are women, including the Captain Harlock lookalike - I get a whiff of disdain from the animators. Perhaps that's just me, but Project A-ko is, after all, an action comedy aimed at a male audience. All the characters are clowns at heart and, given that no male characters have more than a few seconds of screen time, I suppose the women will end up seeming foolish.

Rating: very good
+ escalating absurd humour and action, animation, comic and dramatic timing, awesome 1980s music
- slow to get going, questionable representation of Agent D, characters limited by role and audience

Resources:
Project A-ko Remastered Special Collector's Edition, Eastern Star
ANN
Justin Sevakis's Buried Treasure article
The font of all knowlege
The Anime Encyclopaedia, Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy, Stone Bridge Press via Kindle
500 Essential Anime Movies, the Ultimate Guide, Helen McCarthy, Harper Collins



The last word:

"There is mass destruction and catfighting on a scale that makes the word epic seem inadequate, but no violence that could disturb anyone whose sensitivity level is set to handle Tom & Jerry. Nishijima has a long record in directing anime comedy, much of it set on high school turf, but he has never bettered the inspired lunacy of Project A-Ko."

- Helen McCarthy.


Last edited by Errinundra on Tue Feb 15, 2022 4:44 am; edited 5 times in total
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Beltane70



Joined: 07 May 2007
Posts: 3921
PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2019 8:40 am Reply with quote
One of the biggest kicks that I got out of Project A-Ko was the fact that the alien captain was played by Shuichi Ikeda! The character was so different from Ikeda’s most famous role, the stoic Char Aznable.

I also never realized that Project A-Ko’s character designer was the same person that did the original character designs for Maison Ikkoku.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 15, 2019 4:20 pm Reply with quote
Funnily enough, Moriyama spoke about Shuichi Ikeda in his commentary. Apparently Ikeda was expecting something more manly, and didn't like the role.

Moriyama also explained that the three main characters were designed by different people - he only tidied them up to harmonise them stylistically.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 22, 2019 4:56 am Reply with quote
Beautiful Fighting Girl #61: Samy Yoshino

Chojiku Romanesque Samy - Missing 99
(also known under various combinations of the words Paradox Superdimensional Romaneque Samy: Missing 99)


Samy as (clockwise from top right) school girl, dimensional fighting girl and goddess.

Synopsis: Before time began the gods defeated the demons by releasing so much energy it precipitated the Big Bang. The demons thereafter fled to other dimensions, however the inevitable rise in entropy and chaos means that they must one day come to rival the gods once again. To prepare for this eventuality the gods have engineered the human genome so that a human will be born who can harness the energy of all the dimensions to defend against the demons. It's 1986 and the demons, now on the cusp of breaking out, discover that the super human is a Japanese school girl. They set out to destroy her before she becomes aware of her powers.

Or, from Samy's point of view...

On the way to school Samy is pursued by a demon-possessed gang of motorcyclists, finds herself dragged through a schoolroom wall into another dimension, captured and dumped by a giant flying reptile, pranked by a talking rabbit, surrounded by fluffy, love-deprived demons, rescued by a kindly witch, then pursued by rather more menacing demons in a flying battleship, transformed into a scantily clad warrior girl even though she hasn't a clue how to fight, attacked by a wolf, then vaporised by the aforementioned battleship. Her "chakra" powers now released, she re-forms as an almighty inter-dimensional goddess whereupon she decrees that the gods and demons must cease their warfare. As the flying battleship explodes Samy awakens at her school desk wondering if she had been dreaming.

Production details:
Premiere: 06 July 1986
Chief director, original creator and screenplay: Seiji Okada (Urashiman, Dancougar - Super Beast Machine God, Dream Hunter Rem, Twinkle Heart - Gingakei made Todokanai, Crystal Triangle, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Thunder Jet and Offside)
Director: Hidemi Kubo (Garaga, My Melody no Akazukin and Hello Kitty no Oyayubi Hime)
Studios: Aubec and Anime R
Music: Hideo Gotou
Character design / character design: Moriyasu Taniguchi and Yutaka Arai
Art director: Geki Katsumata
Mechanical design: Toru Yoshida
Sound Director: Yasunori Honda


Clockwise from top right: demon admiral Noa; Samy arrives by reptile courier; high-tech witch transport;
the creepy eyed boy who intervenes against the motorcycle gang; Noa's Ark is populated with refugee demons; and don't trust rabbits.


Comments: Dream Hunter Rem meets Alice and Wonderland, Space Battleship Yamato, Noah's Ark, Indian mythology and the goddess Amaterasu (and not forgetting the obligatory borrowing from Star Wars) in an obscure mash up that never manages to provide a clear reason why the viewer ought to persist in watching it. Unless, of course, you're someone like me who is doing this with a larger canvas in mind. Thankfully it comes in at just under an hour, so it wasn't a huge amount of time misspent. And, to give the OAV some credit, it moves along at a steady pace so it isn't a difficult watch. Hindered by a restricted budget, it compares very poorly when watched back to back with the more dynamic Project A-ko with its much higher production values. While I'm grateful, I keep asking myself why this title managed a fansub when so much more significant anime has missed out. I can only suppose it's from the 80s, it's short and aimed at a male demographic.

The lethargic keyboard notes and prosaic artwork that open the film serve as warning of what is to come. Samy's subsequent interruption of a gang of motorcyclists terrorising two girls could have generated considerable tension in more competent hands, but the overall shoddiness in the production, the lack of detail in the artwork and animation, and the uninspired direction ensure that this scene along with most others lack the impact they ought to have had. Tense moments are undermined by the sudden arrival of outside help, or by ham-fisted or corny plot developments, or by inexplicable character behaviour. Even though the OAV attempts to pull-off some character twists - the rabbit is a bad guy, the witch is a good guy with a straying eyeball and high-tech transport, the furry demons just want children to like them - much of what happens on screen is hackneyed and predictable. Sometimes things are downright stupid. Demon admiral Noa's hysterical orders to shoot the goddess come across as an unintended joke. The transformation of the menacing furry demons into teddy bears is a joke that simply doesn't work. Most ridiculous is the bio-engineered wolf demon who fails to bite a victim in half, supposedly because a wolf's instinct won't allow it to kill something that isn't resisting. Since when is that a thing? There are better elements. The surreal landscapes occasionally transcend the otherwise dull backgrounds. The witch is easily the most fun character with her authority among the demons, her dragon transformation and her flying machine that's way cooler than any old broomstick. Mind you, her character design is unoriginal. And Samy as incompetent fighting girl in skimpy attire could have been fun had it been given more attention.

Samy, as the focus of the narrative, is disappointing. Until her transformation into goddess form she is completely without agency, She's knocked from pillar to post, relying upon flight or upon other characters - the creepy-eyed boy at school, the witch, three wanderers in a desert (one of whom may be the boy at her school) - to escape her assailants. This might have been bearable had she been a comic character, but she has neither the necessary wit to provide an ironic perspective, nor the requisite moe qualities to engender any sort of sympathy. Indeed, you might say she lacks any qualities at all as a character. I find it hard to see any latent goddess within her. Perhaps lifeless schoolgirl becoming omnipotent power is meant to be a joke. How can I tell? I'll be generous: ha ha. Then, as Samy evaporates into the air, when you're supposed to think everything is over - but, of course, you don't because it's all so predictable - Samy is resurrected, or re-constituted, or something and for the demons the story's over. The protagonist has gone from totally ineffectual to totally unstoppable. It's Puella Magi Madoka Magica without the worry or the relief. Just what part of Samy am I supposed to latch on to? Where Project A-ko demonstrated what self-indulgent 1980s could do when inspired, Superdimensional Romanesque Samy is its listless antithesis. Oh, and I have no idea what the "Missing 99" of the title is referring to.



Rating: weak - it isn't laughably incompetent or reprehensible in any way, just largely devoid of interest.
+ moves along steadily, the witch, Samy as incompetent fighting girl verges on cute, occasional surprise, artwork sometimes effective
- dull protagonist without agency until the OAV makes her invincible, dumb villians, listless, predictable, prosaic artwork and direction, juvenile narrative for an OAV audience.

Resources:
ANN
The Anime Encyclopaedia, Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy, Stone Bridge Press via Kindle


Last edited by Errinundra on Tue Feb 15, 2022 4:46 am; edited 3 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 29, 2019 2:12 am Reply with quote
Beautiful Fighting Girl #62: Mitsuko Hayami

Cosmos Pink Shock


Micchi's catchphrase is the survey's first call to "power up": soundbite.

Synopsis: When four-year-old Micchi's "steady" is abducted by aliens ("It used to be quite common to collect research specimens from backwater planets," explains Captain Gatsby) she vows to find him wherever he may be. Opportunity arrives thirteen years later in the form of the fastest spaceship ever built, variously called The Whole Galaxy is Stupid, Pink Shock or Pink Panda. Stealing the spaceship, Micchi proceeds to annoy the crap out of people as she speeds across the galaxy - interrupting space battles and baseball matches played between robots. She also accumulates a retinue of fans who follow in her wake. Eventually, with her fuel tanks empty, she is captured by an ambitious outpost commander who, seeking to immortalise himself, peremptorily sentences her to death by firing squad. This doesn't sit well with a woman-hating Adonis - Captain Gatsby - who, despite his inclinations, is won over by her dedication. Together with the aforementioned fans he engineers her escape.

Production details:
Premiere: 21 July 1986
Directors: Keisuke Matsumoto (Seizei Gambare Maho Shojo Kurumi) and Yasuo Hasegawa (notable mainly as producer of the Tenchi franchise, but he also directed Thunderbirds 2086, Ai no Kiseki - Doctor Norman Monogatari, The Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross, Wanna-Be's and Riding Bean)
Studio: AIC
Script: Takeshi Shudo
Music: Kenji Kawai (Dream Hunter Rem, Maison Ikkoku, Vampire Princess Miyu, Devilman, Ranma ½, Patlabor, Burn Up!, Mermaid Forest, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Blue Seed, Ghost in the Shell, Fate/Stay Night, When They Cry - Higurashi, Moribito - Guardian of the Spirit, Eden of the East, The Perfect Insider and Maquia - When the Promised Flower Blooms, among many others)
Character Design: Toshihiro (aka Toshiki) Hirano (Daicon IV, Don't Do It, Mako! Mako Sexy Symphony arc of Cream Lemon; Fight! Iczer-One, Iczer Reborn and Iczelion, Dangaioh and Great Dangaioh, the OAV and TV versions of Vampire Princess Miyu, Rayearth and Magic Knight Rayearth, and Baki, among others)
Art Director: Kazuhiro Arai
Animation Director: Kenichi Ohnuki and Osamu Yamasaki
Mecha design: Rei Yumeno

Comments: Clocking in at only 35½ minutes and now easily viewable, thanks to YouTube, this one-time obscure OAV follows a path set by Daicon IV, the comic segments of Cream Lemon, Project A-ko or even Super Dimension Fortress Macross. That shouldn't come as a surprise, when you check out the CVs above. The idea is, start with a comic teenage female protagonist or subject who is mostly clueless, then deliberately immerse her in a universe of iconic anime (and other) scenarios and characters. The hoped for outcome is an absurd juxtaposition that skewers its targets and perhaps even serves as a statement of intent. While not nearly as successful as those other titles, and hence probably deserving its obscurity, Cosmic Pink Shock isn't without merit and does push the boundaries of the formula in a couple of ways.


Clockwise from top left: the president and coach of the Tigers baseball team (the players are all robots);
the Pink Shock approaches; the New Humanity commander fighting with culture as her weapon;
Gatsby refuses to respond to the adulation from women; another commander getting steamed up over Micchi.


Typically for this type of comedy, the skittish script isn't all that essential, being there for the sake of a series of visual, verbal and thematic gags. Of greater import and merit are the mostly apt character designs. From Micchi's petulant wilfulness, to Gatsby's girl-teasing good looks or the deranged faces of the military commanders, Hirano's comic renditions both bludgeon and bemuse the viewer. (Less welcome are the racial stereotypes in the faces of the Tigers baseball club president and coach.) Add to that some snappy comic and action timing from directors Matsumoto and Hasegawa and the result is an inconsequential but amusing OAV. There are many worse ways to spend a half hour of your precious anime time.

Most important is Micchi - what she is, what she represents and what she is contrasted with, especially when considered within the remit of this survey. Micchi is seventeen and totally self-absorbed. You might think she's on a mission of love, but that is nothing more than an obsession by which she defines herself. Not only does she not once make a practical effort to find her childhood sweetheart, she even complains that he was abducted instead of her, a much more obvious choice in her mind. Being little more that a set of gestures, there is little about her that corresponds to any seventeen-year-old you might know. Micchi is an anime artefact - deliberately so - intended for an otaku audience to be viewed across three editions of Anime Vision, an anime magazine in video format that mostly consisted of promos for shows and interviews with seiyuu. (Example.) A cute girl on the cusp of moe-dom, Micchi's is simultaneously irritating and attractive. Nothing stands in her way: neither baseballers nor sports fans, neither oldtypes nor newtypes, nor armies with arsenals of singing girls and culture. She doesn't care about wars or sport. Those characters who do get the picture will forsake the former lives and follow her devotedly. The underlying gag is that the idiotic but cute anime girl has arrived, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part. All the old genres must now make way for her. The fans must defer to her. This survey lends credence to the anime's thesis, though I find it ironic that it lampoons Super Dimension Fortress Macross, which makes much the same point. Then again, you might consider all that speculation. Perhaps the anime is just a throwaway product that simply indulges the obsessions of its otaku audience.

Rating: so-so
+ fun, snappily directed, amusing character designs (though remember we're talking 1980s), forewarning of the arrival of moe dominance
- inconsequential, silly, narrative jumps all over the place

Resources:
ANN
Anime Diet: Through Older Lenses: Cosmos Pink Shock (1986), wintermuted
Cartoon Research: Forgotten Anime #44: “Cosmos Pink Shock” (1986), Fred Patten
The Anime Encyclopaedia, Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy, Stone Bridge Press via Kindle



The last word:

"There is much to see as mere distraction in Cosmos, that many may see as your typical benign Japan toon, but there is just enough moxy, and outright raspberrying to all things Gundam and Yamato, to make it into something of a manifesto. A harbinger of the future.

A future that was barrelling closer toward us.

Whether we wanted it... or not. Get out of the way."

- wintermuted


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 7:47 am Reply with quote
Beautiful Fighting Girl #63: Ai (aka I2)



Ai City

(A reverse engineered) synopsis: Gigantic virtual reality Ai City is watched over by a towering white skyscraper come artificial intelligence. Within its thousands of levels officials maintain the integrity of the city's virtual interface, while scientists experiment with genetic engineering to create people with psychic abilities. These subjects are known as headmeters because, when used, their psychic power is displayed on the their forehead. At some point a mutation or corruption of experimental human DNA has allowed it - the DNA - to become self-aware. As the DNA spreads like a virus, the scientists clone a human - cue Ai - with engineered abilities to fight the corrupted DNA when triggered by a password. Ai's escape with failed headmeter Kei sets off a struggle to regain control of her between a shadowy organisation known as Fraud and Lai Lo Ching, a renegade powerful headmeter. Kei, who loves Ai like a daughter, teams up with an drunken ex-cop turned private detective and an amnesiac headmeter to protect her, but where can they go in a city where the very fabric is both artificial, though they don't know it, and monitored closely from the tower?

Production details:
Premiere: 26 July 1986
Director: Koichi Mashimo (Gatchaman II, Urashiman, Dirty Pair: Project Eden, Dominion Tank Police, The Weathering Continent, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Eat Man, Noir, .hack//SIGN, Madlax, Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, .hack//Roots, El Cazador de la Bruja, Blade of the Immortal, Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~, Hyouge Mono)
Studio: Ashi Pro, MOVIC, Toei
Screenplay: Hideki Sonoda (Doraemon, Captain Tsubasa, Beyblade Burst franchise and long-time script writer on the Pokemon franchise)
Source material: the manga Ai Shiti by SYUFO (aka Shuho Itahashi) published in Super Action from June 1983 to July 1984 (compare with Akira which ran from December 1982 to June 1990 and its cinema adaptation, which premiered on 16 July 1988)
Music: Shiro Sagisu (Leda - the Fantastic Adventure of Yohko, Kimagure Orange Road, Nadia - the Secret of Blue Water, Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise, Beserk Golden Age Arc and subsequent TV series)
Character design and chief animation director: Chūichi Iguchi
Art Director: Torao Arai
Color design: Miyoko Kobayashi

A note on the title: Recently ANN changed the listing in its encyclopaedia from the film's Right Stuf VHS (and original Japanese) name, Ai City, to the more prosaic Love City. The new title forsakes the richness of the original, which is a four-way English / Japanese play on words: Ai is Japanese for love (in an unselfish sense); AI is the English acronym for Artificial Intelligence; the English letter "I" is part of the subject character's code designation I2, ie she is a clone of the 9th experimental subject, and is the source of her name, Ai; and the English "I" is the first person pronoun. Hence the original Japanese (and, I might add, English) title alludes to the conflicts between true love and selfish desire, artificial intelligence and human intelligence, and complex systems and individual freedom - all lost with the narrow translation now applied.


Top: Ai and Kei (ie, subject "K"); bunny-suited K2 is, as her name suggests, a clone of K - go figure.
Middle: Kei genuinely cares for Ai like a daughter - she is, after all, a young clone of his murdered lover; alcoholic ex-cop turned private dick, Raidan
Bottom: Ai is triggered in the battle against the renegade DNA; headmeter Lai Lo Ching lives within a protective shell;


Comments: Ten years before the release of Ai City Richard Dawkins published what was to become, according to some (and I agree), the most influential science book of all time, The Selfish Gene. In it he argues that the gene is the central element of life. Not the species ("survival of the species" is an irrelevant fallacy) nor the organism, which is but a temporary survival module until the gene replicates itself and transfers to a fresher offspring. Genes endow their host with traits and if those qualities confer reproductive advantages then the gene improves its chances of immortality. Closely related individuals share many genes, so seemingly altruistic behaviour between them enhances the prospects of the genes themselves. Said behaviour isn't as unselfish as it may appear at first blush - hence the title of the book. Dawkins also proposed the replication of ideas as an analogy to gene behaviour and coined the term "meme", which has become a successful meme in its own right. An irony of human evolutionary development - not canvassed directly in the book but implied in the discussion of memes - is that the human brain, which evolved to enhance our reproductive fitness and thus immortalise the genes that created it, has become so advanced that the host organism has not only become self-aware but now indulges in genetic engineering. Our brains have been infected by replicating memes that may be in conflict with the genes that created the brains in the first place. Furthermore, memes are leading us to create artificial intelligence, which may also be at odds with our nature (our genes) and our culture (our memes). Ai City explores these complex ideas in an anime that looks like nothing before it in this grand survey. If all that seems arcane then I will say that the script stands up well to close scrutiny of both its thematic and narrative elements (though the notion of genetic material becoming self aware requires a leap of faith). The problems lie elsewhere.

Two new factors are introduced to the survey. This is our first encounter with Koichi Mashimo, one of my favourite anime directors. We will encounter him from time to time as the survey progresses. I think he has some of the most interesting treatments of female characters in anime, although Ai City itself isn't particularly noteworthy. The subject character, Ai, is little more than a cute girl caught in circumstances beyond her understanding. Even though she is pivotal to the resolution of the highlighted conflict, the role is thrust upon her, not chosen. The other important female character, in terms of screen time, is K2 who is a Mashimo archetype - the highly sexualised but capable woman, especially as a killer - although, in her case, she is mostly used for dramatic or ornamental effect. He also brings his distinctive visual style to the other new factor - Cyberpunk has finally arrived in the survey, fully two years before Akira (although, as pointed out above, the Akira manga came first). Mashimo's eye for spectacle, his penchant for garish contrasts in a wide range of colours and his love of irony - from the bluntly obvious to the obtusely cryptic - combine with the subject matter to give us classic cyberpunk "high tech and low life". The protagonists are losers, with little agency or ability. What they do have, for all their shortcomings, is a sort of authenticity that is otherwise lacking in the world around them. As with cyberpunk generally, AI City also has elements of film noir, with its exaggerated shadows, a private detective as our guide, and a passing bunch of villains notable more for outlandish visual traits than their depth of character. To all this Mashimo adds his own moments of brilliant psychedelia. These effects aren't deployed to illuminate the subject matter but, rather, to assault the senses, to excite rather than clarify, to highlight the shocking nature of the constructed world. The visual overload will likely wear you out well before the end.


Film noir meets cyberpunk and psychedelia.
Note bottom left the animation within the body - so characteristic of the director I shall henceforth call it the Mashimo Effect.


The narrative structure is a foretaste of what will become the trademark Mashimo style: a puzzle to be unravelled rather than a goal to be achieved. The viewer is given little clue as to what sort of world we have entered into, why the main characters are in the predicament they are, or who is pulling the strings. Things aren't helped by being dropped in media res into an alien world without context. Piece by piece, little by little, the viewer must figure out what is going on. It's a tight story that ultimately makes sense, but some thought is required. That said, the film doesn't suffer from Mashimo's otherwise typical languorous pacing. Ai City isn't simply fast paced - it has a restlessness that verges on manic. So, we have an overwhelming visual attack plus a bewildering introduction to a highly artificial world plus manic pacing plus a dense underlying narrative that requires mental application to nut out. When I first watched this eight years ago I tuned out and, hence, adjudged the ending daft: a pretentious attempt at something postmodern. Now that I'm forced by the review to think it through I've undergone a fridge horror epiphany. The real Ai City is revealed as something that had been hinted at all along: a frightening world that portends The Matrix, still some 13 years in the future. The Wachowskis have frequently cited anime as an inspiration for their famous franchise. I wonder if they knew of Ai City when they set out making their films. Clements and McCarthy cite it as "a serious contender for one of the best endings in anime". I wouldn't go that far: I hadn't invested that much in the film to care sufficiently. Justin Sevakis had a polar opposite response, "I don't know what the ending means, and I'm not going to pretend I do. Whatever it is that actually happens, it's a completely dissatisfying attempt at an ending even by anime standards." What can I say? Everyone sees the world differently.

As a cyberpunk pioneer and an anime film more generally Ai City has been overshadowed by Akira. For all its mesmerising tricks Ai City lacks the budget and the animation finesse of the newer film. Unpleasant though the characters are in Akira, they have an impact that Ai, K2 and the others lack. While Mashimo's themes are more coherent and his vision more in tune with my own world view, Katshuhiro Otomo's visual style is more compelling. Above all, Otomo tapped into his audience's disaffection with a world they were about to inherit from their parents. I rate the two films similarly because, for all its advantages, there is much about Akira I find disagreeable. (My review of Akira is here. Please note that after seeing it in its proper environment - a movie theatre on a large screen - I upgraded its rating to good.)

Rating: good
+ startling visual style; dense underlying themes (which may, for some, be a negative); fast pace
- bewildering in media res introduction; dull, undeveloped characters; visual style can be tiring


Overbearing visuals. Top: the city's fabric splits open to reveal a biochemical universe beyond; giant, leering heads erupt from the bitumen.
Middle: rampaging oil-tanker in a scintillating landscape.
Bottom: note the torso-less legs marching in the billboard; creatures with corrupted DNA confront Ai.


Resources:
ANN
Justin Sevakis's Pile of Shame article
The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins, Oxford University Press
The Anime Encyclopaedia, Jonathon Clements and Helen McCarthy, Stone Bridge Press via Kindle
100 Anime, Philip Brophy, British Film Institute Publishing
The font of all knowledge


Last edited by Errinundra on Tue Feb 15, 2022 4:48 am; edited 4 times in total
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Beltane70



Joined: 07 May 2007
Posts: 3921
PostPosted: Sun Oct 06, 2019 9:39 am Reply with quote
Errinundra wrote:
The narrative structure is a foretaste of what will become the trademark Mashimo style: a puzzle to be unravelled rather than a goal to be achieved. The viewer is given little clue as to what sort of world we have entered into, why the main characters are in the predicament they are, or who is pulling the strings. Things aren't helped by being dropped in media res into an alien world without context. Piece by piece, little by little, the viewer must figure out what is going on. It's a tight story that ultimately makes sense, but some thought is required


Now imagine watching this film unsubtitled in Japanese like I did when I first saw Ai City some 30 years ago or so!
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Errinundra
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Location: Melbourne, Oz
PostPosted: Sat Oct 12, 2019 4:22 am Reply with quote
^
I can so relate to that with all the foreign language versions I've sat through for this survey, including Russian, French, Polish, Spanish and Italian as well as, of course, raw Japanese.

Beautiful Fighting Girl Squad #64: the surviving crew of the Solnoid space cruiser Star Leaf



Gall Force - Eternal Story

Synopsis: Long, long ago far across the galaxy two civilisations - the all female Solnoids and the slime-bodied, catfish-faced Paranoids - find themselves in endless conflict. Powerful factions on either side collude to end the war by engineering a fertile hybrid between the two species. When a computer malfunction warps a Solnoid cruiser - the Star Leaf - to a remote location the faction puts its plan into action by infiltrating it with shape-changing creature that stalks the female crew. Directed by their commanders - who are part of the plot - to seek refuge at terraformed, but so far uninhabited, planet Chaos, the crew find themselves pursued by a monster within and hostile forces all about. After an encounter with the monster one of the women becomes pregnant - a concept utterly foreign to the Solnoids. As battles rage around them the dwindling survivors of the Star Leaf must make decisions that, unbeknownst to them, will have far-reaching ramifications.

Production details:
Premiere: 26 July 1986
Director: Katsuhito Akiyama (Thundercats, Bubblegum Crisis, Bastard!!, Ai no Kusabi, Elementalors, El Hazard: the Wanderers, Magical Project S, Battle Athletes, Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure, Armitage: Dual Matrix, Monkey Turn, Guyver: the Bioboosted Armour (TV), Pumpkin Scissors, Inazuma Eleven, Beyblade Burst)
Studios: AIC, Animate, ARTMIC, MOVIC
Source material: Star Front Gall Force by Hideki Kakinuma, a 3-D photo novel using plastic models, published by Model Graphix
Script: Sukehiro Tomita (a veteran of the anime industry starting with Osomatsu-kun and Sazae-san in the 60s through to Showa Mongatari at the start of the decade - anime relevant to the survey include Majokko Tickle, Space Runaway Ideon and its movie sequels, Aura Battler Dunbine, GoShogun, Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Magical Fairy Persia, Esper Mami, Devil Hunter Yohko, the Sailor Moon franchise, Phantom Thief Jeanne)
Music: Ichizo Seo
Character design: Kenichi Sonoda (most famous as the creator of Riding Bean and Gunsmith Cats)
Art director: Junichi Azuma
Animation director: Masahiro Tanaka, Nobuyuki Kitajima
Mechanical design: Hideki Kakinuma


With the death of the ship's captain, Rabby must make sense of rapidly changing circumstances.

With Dirty Pair, Project A-ko and now Gall Force (ie, Gal or Girl Force) I'm well and truly adrift in the 1980s universe of fighting girls in a sci-fi setting. Gall Force has more serious intentions than either of its predecessors, (even if the eye candy character designs and one note personalities might suggest otherwise), so there is a bit more going on than you might think. As I've observed on a few occasions through this survey, watching titles in their chronological place has been revelatory. This is especially pertinent with Gall Force. Our 2019 eyes might see the central characters as clichéd, but the thing to remember is that this is the first front-and-centre all-girl squadron we've encountered in the survey and, probably, all of anime. (And with a script from the same pen who will give us Sailor Moon.) Add in an ambitious plot with more than a passing nod to Alien where several of the characters have little time to shine before being despatched and my inner wannabe screenwriter finds itself mulling over the possibilities and the limitations of the premise along with the finished product's successes and shortcomings.

The first challenge is that we have a large central ensemble for an 86 minute film intended primarily for a male audience, comprising seven survivors in a spaceship severely damaged in battle and a fighter pilot whose own mother ship has been destroyed. The second is that most of them will be presently killed off. Little time is available for complex indulgences like back story or relationship building. To render the women easily identifiable Akiyama, Tomita and Sonoda rely on simple traits, or codes, for each: colour, animal analogue and a dominant personality. The outcome is a bunch of characters who are simultaneously unreal, quirky and dull. The one exception is the point of view character, Rabby (Rabbit / Orange), whose narrative requirement for audience sympathy necessitates a more rounded personality. To that end the creators largely failed. As an honest trier she lacks even the quirks of her crew mates. She reminds me a little of Jeanne Francaix from Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, although, in fairness to Gall Force, the creators of the more nuanced Jeanne had 23 episodes, or about seven times the screen time, to develop her. Still, I like Rabby's good sense, her seriousness and her conscientiousness. To my male eye she is attractive without being obviously fetishy. My immersion in 1980s anime has left me thoroughly vaccinated against its excesses. I can see more clearly now that my biases have gone and Sonoda's designs serve the film very well. Lufy is the fanservice focus thanks to her penchant for wandering about the Star Leaf naked. In a world without sex nudity is no longer of any moment. Convenient, that. I also liked how the Solnoid military commanders managed to be both sinister and sexy in their black uniforms and beaked helmets that obscure their eyes (and presumably their vision).


Top left: Rumy is comforted by the very first male Solnoid; he grew from foetus to adult in less than a day.
Top right: if he looks like his mother Patty it's because he's essentially a clone.
Middle left: Catty is a cute girl version of science officer Ash from Alien.
Middle right: Lufy, the hot-headed wolf.
Bottom left: the semi-liquid Paranoids are pumped into their power suits.
Bottom right: I'm left wondering how the Solnoid command can see what they're doing.


The plot, heavily influenced by Alien though it may be, is tautly exciting, enhanced by the crew's unknowing role as pawns in the machinations of powerful forces. Short on character interest - unfortunately, Rabby is no Ripley - the film must rely on its narrative and its themes. Happily there are clever twists, including a big reveal at the end, tense sci-fi action moments, nicely animated space battles, clever / funny ideas - the slimy Paranoids have to be pumped into their power suits through hoses - and scenes with sinister implications. Even the plot holes are amusing. While I can imagine the Paranoids reproducing asexually like amoeba, I was left scratching my head over the Solnoids. The film provides no clue on how the all-female species reproduces, although other sources suggest cloning. Perhaps later instalments will clarify the matter? Even so, how is that asexual creatures have such perfectly formed secondary sexual characteristics? You need sexual selection (and another sex) for that. Perhaps male Solnoids existed in the far, far past? Clearly, the needs of the audience outweigh plot coherence. I can forgive that.

That caveat aside, Gall Force is an important step in the evolution of the beautiful fighting girl: not only in its expansion from the duo to the squadron but also, considering its male audience, for treating them somewhat more seriously than previous similarly targeted anime. I don't want to overstate this: Rabby possibly excepted, the characters aren't well enough constructed for the audience to identify with them - they remain the female other - and silly / cute girl humour crops up from time to time (invariably undermining the prevailing tone). I'll end by quoting Philip Brophy's essay on the film as it is germane to one of the theses of this survey.

Philip Brophy wrote:
Celebrated as an icon of 80s' otaku culture due to its iconisation of 'cute babes with laser guns', Gall Force - Eternal Story can be read in entirely different ways. What on the surface appears to be a condescending objectification of Woman is in fact a highly resonant encoding of how power can be visually and symbolically presented by foregrounding gender in the act of depiction. The open-ended illustrative possibilities of anime facilitate this with greater ease than live-action cinema, and anime explores the extremes to which these depictions of power and gender can be taken...

... A universal council decides that the only way for the war to end is through genetically mutating both species, to create a 'mutant' species which ends up being a human male... In a weird mix of the Jungian psychological concept of dual traits within each sex, and the Christian biblical tale of Adam and Eve, Gall Force casually proposes that men are mutations between feminine energy and monstrous power.



It might just be what you think it is.

Rating: good
+ introduction of the all-female squadron to anime; taut, suspenseful plot with interesting twists; depiction of gender and power; character designs; revelatory ending and coda
- one-note characters with little to no development; condescending treatment of the female characters; unexplained plot points; ghastly insert songs

Resources:
Gall Force - Eternal Story, Central Park Media / US Manga Corps
ANN
100 Anime, Philip Brophy, British Film Institute Publishing
GEARS - Gall Force - Eternal Story
The font of all knowledge
500 Essential Anime Movies: the Ultimate Guide, Helen McCarthy, Collins Design


Last edited by Errinundra on Tue Feb 15, 2022 4:49 am; edited 3 times in total
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