The Mike Toole Show
The Anniversary Special
by Michael Toole,
This column marks a year since I climbed aboard the Anime News Network intergalactic choo-choo train on a more or less permanent basis. Amazingly, I've only slipped my deadline once, and that was a pretty long time ago [editor's note: some statements in this introduction have been exaggerated for comedic effect]. Some might ascribe this to discipline and time management, but if you've actually worked with me you'll understand two things: First of all, I have a gigantic list of potential topics that I can write about more or less at the drop of a hat. Second, I'm pretty damn good at pulling stories out of my bum at the absolute last second. As proof of that, as I write these words, it is 11:57 PM EDT on Saturday the 22nd. Plenty of time, guys - am I right?
Anyway, this time around, I'm not going to dredge up the name of some half-forgotten technical animation luminary, or drone on at length about robot cartoons, or ramble about how great things were for anime fans when I was eighteen, full of energy, and not yet aware that I was dooming myself to a life full of weird cartoons from Japan that would... er, actually allow me to travel around the world, meet lots of cool people, and make some money! Instead, I'll do two things - first up, I'll talk about a few of the things I've learned from writing this column over the past year. Second, since it's my one year anniversary, I'm going to talk about some of the more interesting and amusing anniversary celebrations in the world of anime.
I'm a pretty experienced writer, but as with all things, I constantly learn new stuff about the craft and about how people react to my borderline obsessive-compulsive chatter. When I started The Mike Toole Show, I wanted to dish up some really dense, fact-heavy, unique pieces - in part because that's how I roll, but also partly because the emergence of blogging in general has given rise to an awful lot of simple, surface-level news and commentary. I definitely feel like I've accomplished that goal with some of my pieces, but they don't tend to be the really popular ones. In fact...
You guys like lists. Ah, lists. Numbered or unnumbered, lists are the junk food of internet content. Some sites, like cracked.com and Topless Robot, have made a cottage industry out of creating and populating a variety of amusing numbered lists. Ten Awesome anime videogames the US will never see. Six TV shows that completely lost their shit. And so on. One of my most popular columns is the Christmas one, which is a pretty straightforward countdown of holiday-themed anime episodes and features. It was simple enough to put together, but it got tens of thousands of reads, and forum readers were quick to chip in with their own holiday favorites. I can't really fault this approach, either - lists are easy to digest and get straight to the point, even if they don't match up with your top ten.
I'm not sure if everyone loves anime... but everyone loves the idea of anime. Home video sales continue to slump. Online streaming is gaining momentum, but outside of specialized venues like Netflix, it's hard to say if it's really caught on with the bulk of fans. A massive universal hit, like Cowboy Bebop or Dragon Ball Z or even Naruto, hasn't emerged lately. Despite that, convention attendance continues to surge. Anime clubs survive and in some cases, even thrive. Anime fans are stockpiling DVDs, and my remarks about a 'dead' hobby like cel collecting still got a beefy response. Some of us aren't devouring the medium as voraciously as we used to, but from my vantage point, lots and lots of people still actually want to be anime fans. Brilliant!
I make lots of dumb little mistakes. Keiko Takemiya, not Moto Hagio. Seijun Suzuki only directed the Gold of Babylon movie, not the entire third Lupin the 3rd TV series. Osamu Dezaki didn't direct They Were Eleven, that was his brother Satoshi. (Okay, I think I caught that one.) Tokyo Movie Shinsha, not Knack goddamn Studio! Writing the column has sharpened my research skills, but there's always a boo-boo or two. I don't mind at all when you guys correct me, either - keeps me grounded.
People really will defend anything. Okay, listen: I want those dudes on Twitter (there was more than one of them!) to drop everything and write me a 500-word essay on why they liked Magical Meow Meow Taruto. I am totally serious. I want breakdowns of the characters' personalities, descriptions of what visual elements set the show apart, and the underlying themes of the poorly-animated adventures of these unsettling little girl-cat homunculi laid out. Okay, maybe people will defend anything is a little harsh. How about everything has its fans? I'm not sure if I believe that, though. I mean, can I get a show of hands of who bought each and every individual volume of Cyberteam in Akihabara?
There are tons of good stories out there. Months back, it occurred to me to contact the guy who was in that weird live-action Gundam movie. He got right back to me, and his reminiscences about the weird costumes and neat little prop cockpit ended up being the centerpiece of an awesome column. I've talked to Fred Ladd about the great movie (Little Norse Prince) that Toei wanted to forget existed, to numerous people about the self-styled entertainment mogul and man behind Space Battleship Yamato, Yoshinobu Nishizaki. I've talked to the guys behind the Anime Crash stores and video label about the rise and fall of their business. I've talked to the brother of Peter Fernandez about how unfortunate it was that almost none of the obituaries of the great man mentioned his military service. Some of this stuff has already been mentioned in my writings, but a lot of it hasn't. It's coming, though - and there's more every time I pick up the phone or dash off an email!
Japanese cartoons are awesome. Doesn't matter if it's Evangelion 2.0 at the theatres, the last stray bits of Galaxy Angel on DVD (I bought the first three volumes of Galaxy Angel Rune for $1.00 each! Yeah, that's about the right price...), or Tiger & Bunny on the internet, the medium remains as fascinating as ever to me. Every time I think I'm starting to get worn out, something new and amazing comes down the pike, or something old and beloved gets re-issued, or I stumble across a cheap set of something I never got around to watching. I'm looking forward to enjoying more of these stories, and spinning my experiences into stories for all you jerks.
Okay! Let's talk anniversaries. You can start just by looking at my last column, because all of the stuff mentioned there is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Unfortunately, I don't think there are any celebrated tie-ins for Baldios this year - I look at Production Reed's website, and all it really tells me is the synopsis for something called Hey, students! Green neckerchief for your hearts. But lots of classics over the years have had big-deal anniversaries. One of my favorite anniversary projects was Mobile Suit Gundam's 20th anniversary, which was subtitled Big Bang Project. Not content to confine the celebration mostly to a single event, like they did with the 10th anniversary All That Gundam short and 0080 OVA set, Sunrise really outdid themselves, kicking out Turn A Gundam, the 08th MS Team Miller's Report short movie, the Dreamcast game Rise from the Ashes, the theatrical short Mission to the Rise, and the live-action G-Saviour all circa 1998. I think this strategy has paid amazing dividends for them, considering that most of these products have arrived (or will soon arrive, in Turn A's case) on our shores. I even have a Big Bang Project bar towel!
Some anniversary stuff is a little less ambitious, or at least less obvious. Maybe you celebrated the 40th anniversary of Lupin the 3rd in 2007 with the purchase of a hilariously overpriced Zippo lighter, or a nifty Micronauts-scale action figure. Actually, Lupin the 3rd has had a ton of anniversary goodies released over the years. I think my favorite is from that same year of 1998, when a few products bearing the moniker Punch the Monkey got released. One of these is a PlayStation game that's gotten really hard to find. Another one is a CD packed with remixes of great Lupin the 3rd music, done largely by cool Shibuya-kei acts like Fantastic Plastic Machine, Pizzicato Five, and Jun Sasaki. Composer Yūji Ono really got involved with this stuff, and it shows - his collaborations with Pizzicato Five and FANTASTIC EXPLOSION are particularly cool. The ultimate Lupin the 3rd anniversary goodie, however, has to be the Green vs Red OVA. It marked the 40th anniversary in 2008, and as the title suggests, depicted the famed thief facing off against himself, only in a different blazer. The special is actually packed with gags and homages to older Lupin the 3rd stories, and throws in some neat background information about Zenigata's time with the Tokyo MPD. It was cool to get Episode 0 from Discotek last year; I'm kinda hoping that we'll get this (or maybe The Return of Pycal) from them somewhere down the road.
I really want to know what the deal with the "ALL THAT..." phrase is. We got All That Gundam in 1989, and in 2007, we got All That VF, a brief celebration of all things Valkyrie, the iconic transforming jet fighters from the Macross franchise. This short is admittedly a really neat idea, pitching the showcase of every VF from every version of Macross as a special air-show performance. It's a tantalizing little merger of the entire ouvre into a few minutes, and it's altogether too brief. There were other goodies to celebrate Macross's 25th, as well - if you like toys, a whole bevy of new plastic and die-cast Valkyries hit the market. You might've been too young or too dumb to grab that Takatoku Valkyrie way back in the day, but thanks to this, you can get one that's not so different.
We all like to think of One Piece as something that's cool and current, but Eiichiro Oda's famous comics are closing in on fifteen years of publication. One of my favorite anniversary goodies came out in 2007 from Shonen Jump, and it's chock full of One Piece. A cheap, fun little book produced to to celebrate the franchise's 10th birthday, One Piece Treasures is essentially page after page of tribute artwork from the entire stable of Shonen Jump artists. If you ever wanted to see what Monkey and company would look like if the folks behind Bo-Bobo-Bobobobo, Bleach, Eyeshield 21, and Doraemon (that's right!) drew them, hunt this slim little magazine down. Speaking of One Piece, you don't have to wait years for celebrations - Shonen Jump has an annual touring bash featuring short movies of its most popular stuff - no need to wait in five-year increments. In 2008, the company and their pals at Toei whipped up not just an animated take on Oda's One Piece prototype Romance Dawn, but the first new Dragon Ball cartoon in more than ten years. The company made these neat little movies available subtitled via a special online player, but when are we gonna see some DVDs? I have an anniversary to celebrate here!
I think the king of the anime anniversary hill has to be Space Battleship Yamato, and I think you can chalk that up entirely to the business acumen of the late Yoshinobu Nishizaki. Nish really introduced the whole idea of anime soundtrack albums as marketable products with the first Yamato LPs, and new premium music collections seem to come out in various configurations every few years. There's anniversary Yamato toys, movie sets, books, and even luxury goods, like wristwatches. After all, why tell time like a regular person when you can flash your stylish Yamato Cosmo Master watch instead? I think the best Yamato anniversary product has to be the wine, though.
Yep. It's wine. It's Desslok-themed. And it even comes with its own Gamilon wine glass! It's even better than the Yamato anniversary soft drink toys.
So, there you have it - year one. What anime anniversary are you celebrating this year?
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