Tuesday, March 26, 2013

1983: Fantasy Plus Reality Plus a Genre Queen

Patrick Drazen is old enough to have gone to the movies when the first anime to get to America was being screened: Osamu Tezuka’s 1959 feature film Saiyu-ki, dubbed, chopped and issued as Alakazam the Great! This version of the Son Goku legend lay dormant in his mind until the appearance of VCRs in the mid-Eighties, when Japanese videos could be seen in the West; there was no turning back. An interest in Japanese popular culture and its connection to Japan’s history, religion, and sociology has led to two books: Anime Explosion: The What? Why? And Wow! Of Japanese Animation (2002 by Stone Bridge Press, which plans to release an expanded e-book second edition in 2013) and A Gathering of Spirits: Japan’s Ghost Story Tradition (2011, a self-published paper book and e-book through iUniverse).

1983 was a surprising year in the transition of anime to a new medium. While televised anime was enjoying its golden age of super-team mecha shows (Vifam, Genesis Climer Mospeada, Galactic Whirlwind Sasuraiger, Armored Trooper Votoms, and Super Dimension Century Orguss, just to name a few vehicles), sports-centric shows (Captain, Captain Tsubasa, Kinnikuman), and the last of the obligatory Time Bokan shows until 2000 (Itadakiman), theaters were capitalizing on trips to the stars (Final Yamato, Crusher Joe) and global adventure (Urusei Yatsura: Only You, Dr. Slump and Arale-chan: Hoyoyo, The Great 'Round-the-World Race). However, that's not to say that there were alternatives to the norm.

The two theater-based features released in 1983 and highlighted here were polar opposites; one was a scary but lighthearted fantasy adventure intended for children, while the other was a harrowing and intensely graphic true story about human cruelty and a matching will to survive. Both were based on major works by mangaka and are known in the west mainly by reputation. The one TV series that stands out in 1983 anime is a marker for an entire genre but it, too, is seldom seen now. Thus passes the glories of “old-school” anime.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

1982: The Survey Says...!

Relatively new to anime blogging, Kraker hails from the UK and posts sporadically at his blog The Vanishing Trooper Incident on topics such as animators, the studios behind anime, and giant robot shows. Kraker's first major introduction to anime was Ghibli's Spirited Away and he's been hooked ever since. You can find him on Twitter at @Kraker2k posting thoughts on TV shows, anime and video games. (And thank you for the quick fill-in! - Ed.)

Well, before I begin I should say as a writer who was born a few years after their chosen year I was in a pickle. There had to be away in which this era of anime could be tackled. It dawned on me that 1982 could be approached from two distinct angles. The first point of entry was to see which anime shows in 1982 were popular with the general viewing audience; after all what better way is there to gauge the waters of 1982 than seeing what the masses were watching? I managed to find a glut of data on 2channel about the viewing figures of many TV shows across the '80s. The second approach was to look at what kinds of shows were favoured by "fans", the sorts of people who went to conventions, made cosplay, and whom one could identify as the more traditional anime fan. For this, the end-of-year rankings from Animage Magazine compiled from its reader's votes came into play.

(Note: I am filling in the 1982 slot after the original author wasn't able to make it, so I've ended up putting this piece together at short notice as best I can.)

Monday, March 18, 2013

1976: Broken Bones, Orphans, and Robo-Sports

Born in the flaming ruins of Michigan, Jeremy Kaufmann (@whydoisayescaped certain death at the hands of his tormentors for the greener (or at least less-on-fire) pastures of California. Now from his secret catacombs beneath San Francisco, he writes torrid tales of dinosaurs, robots, and monsters. He has a BA in cinema and no sense of propriety. He makes podcasts at Destroy All Podcasts, comics at Destroy All Comics, and music at Violence Mars. He is a rascal.

1976 was a chaotic mess.

Separate earthquakes killed over 20,000, 200,000, and 4,000 in Honduras and Guatemala, China, and Turkey. 5,000 people died when a tidal wave hit the Philippines. The world saw the first outbreak of the Ebola virus in Zaire and over 150 people passed away. The notorious serial killer "Son of Sam" terrified New York City with his .44 caliber Bulldog revolver. China’s Chairman Mao Zedong, Communist savior or perhaps brutal dictator, breathed his last.

In the same year, the first supersonic passenger airplane took its maiden flight, the first publicly available supercomputer was released by Cray, and Apple Computer was founded. Viking 2 landed on Mars and took high quality close up pictures for the first time. The meme was introduced in The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

American aerospace company Lockheed spent $22 million dollars bribing foreign governments. Lockheed paid off the Prime Minister of Japan, the head of All Nippon Airways, and yakuza scumbag and behind the scenes political mover Yoshio Kodama to get Japan to buy their F-104 instead of the DC-10 from rival McDonnell Douglas. And then a Soviet fighter pilot even landed his Mig-25 on Hokkaido and asked for asylum!

Even the sports page wasn't full of good news. Muhammad Ali fought Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in one of the first mixed martial arts battles. It was also a grueling slog that neither athlete won. Both were badly injured, and Ali never again quite floated like a butterfly.

So what do you in in your art when even the sports world looks super grim? When the real world is in flames, what do you make cartoons about? Sports, robots, and sports-robots!

And sometimes orphans.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

1981: Fart Jokes, Fighting Robots, and the Far-Flung Reaches of Space

Joseph Luster (@Moldilox) contributes to Otaku USA Magazine—where he writes articles, edits the video games section, and handles website content—and Crunchyroll News, where he serves as Assistant Editor and Pro Roustabout. He also writes about games for Sci Fi. Joseph got his start writing unprofessionally about Asian cinema at the now-defunct Kung Fu Cult Cinema site, and went on to get his pro start during the final era of Animerica Magazine.  Sometimes he finds a moment to post on his personal blog.

Ask someone what 1981 means to them and you'll get a vast array of divergent answers. For many it will forever be known as the year I was born. For fans of anime, 1981 is exemplified by a steady stream of Super Robot series. Or perhaps manga adaptations like Toei Animation's second take on Ikki Kajiwara's pro wrasslin' Tiger Mask; or, from the same fine folks, the bottomless gag reel cobbled together from Akira Toriyama's legitimately hilarious Dr. Slump. Or perhaps Urusei Yatsura? Anyone?

While we're asking questions, a recent personal inquiry helped attach a nice booster rocket to this period of far-reaching reflection. When a friend asked, "What made you start writing about all this Japanese stuff in the first place?" I was suddenly faced with a sprawling, seemingly-endless hall of mirrors. What made me start writing about all this Japanese stuff in the first place? If it had taken me longer than half a second to answer, I probably would have entered a long phase of deep, dark self-reflection, but I had it in the bag.

I grew up watching so many cartoons and playing so many games, without any idea where they all originated from. Once I found out the majority of the stuff that kept my face planted in front of a TV set came from Japan, my fate was sealed. While I look at some of the shows I actually grew up on fondly, so much of it has aged poorly, sporting the pallor of a faded black Suncoast t-shirt someone wears way past its expiry, keeping a tight grip on their tits out of nostalgic obligation.

The anime of 1981, however, is home to a bunch of the stuff I wish I had grown up on.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

1980, Part 2: What Anime Bloggers Would Typically Say About It

(We swear that this is the last section of Daryl Surat's analysis of anime from 1980. Seriously, this is it. He wanted to write about more, but there's absolutely nothing left for him to cover. Nothing. - Ed.)

Now comes the easy part. The stuff you guys know about; the part of 1980 that the Internet anime fan blogging sphere has on their radar thanks to fansubs and disc-based commercial media releases. Did I forget to mention there was a Doraemon movie in the preceding parts, given its Japanese mega-popularity and English-language obscurity? Nah! I just didn’t bother to talk about it because THERE’S ALWAYS A DORAEMON MOVIE. Though not mentioning it did mean I had no place to note that a second TV series was made for one of Fujiko Fujio’s less famous creations, Kaibutsu-kun

Saturday, March 2, 2013

1980, Part 1.5: Anime IS...Huh. Actually Lots Of It Is Kid's Stuff

Daryl Surat gave us so much to print that it wouldn't fit all in one article. Call this part (and the one after that...and the one after that...) your bonus for lasting through the first two months of this blog. Yeah, we're scrapped on legitimate rewards, but it's the honor that counts, right? - Ed.

I may as well begin this half of…um, this half…by talking about the types of anime made in 1980 that are at least conceptually recognizable to us in the United States of America: regular ol’ children’s shows. Previous Golden Ani-Versary postings have already discussed Time Bokan at length, so I needn’t elaborate much on the 1980 iteration, Time Patrol-Tai Otasukeman (a.k.a. Rescueman). It’s another Tatsunoko show that follows the now-established formula: Yoshitaka Amano character designs, Kunio Okawara mecha, and most importantly a sexy cleavage-endowed villainess inclined to figuratively (and literally!) lose her top at her two bumbling male subordinates, one of whom looks sorta like Waluigi. You know the drill.

Friday, March 1, 2013

1980, Part 1: Anime’s “Golden Age” Was Built on Content Otaku Overlook

A writer for Otaku USA Magazine and co-host of the Anime World Order podcast, Daryl Surat spent his formative years acquiring outlandish media and trivial information instead of learning the basic tenets of human interaction. Now that everything he knows and more can be instantly acquired online with no sacrifice required, the joke’s on him. Isolated from human contact, missing basic fundamental parts of his mind with no possibility of remedial rehabilitation, and being gradually unmade by entropy Daryl can be found screaming with his fingers on Twitter at @DarylSurat until his impending existential expiration.

They say that most people don’t like to read more than a few hundred words at a time on a screen, and certainly not several paragraphs without even pictures or videos to break things up, especially not in this era of mobile Internet access by way of smartphones and other handheld devices. The average Internet user will read an article’s headline, skim the body of a text to zero in on any keywords, look at the pictures, and then leave it at that even if they’re planning to comment. (Perhaps I should say “ESPECIALLY if they’re planning to comment.”) There are, after all, many other links to check.

If that describes you, go ahead and close the window now because it takes me forever to start talking about what I’m supposed to be talking about.

The very first time I ever used the Internet was around 1992-1994, and the very first thing I did was look up information about anime. It wasn’t until the late 2000s, long after everyone had left the party, that I made my first post to Usenet. So it is that despite all my overly wordy message board posts, articles, and the like…this is actually the first time I’ve ever “blogged” about anime (or, for that matter, used the word “blog” as a verb; eww, gross!) Most of my writing is intended for print, and even my web articles on the Otaku USA website aren’t crafted with considerations of “how to ensure this will be shared on the Internet” in mind.

When it comes to blog posting, confirmation bias rules the day. It’s no surprise that the initial flood of volunteers for this project were for the nostalgic, formative years for fans most likely to currently be writing anime blogs: the 1990s and 2000s. The more analytically-minded fans zeroed in on the years where classic series that are still remembered in 2013 first began. So it goes that if I didn’t take 1980, nobody else would’ve. I myself have no childhood memory or nostalgia for the year in question since well, it was the year I was born. Words like “manga” and “anime” weren’t commonly known to Japanese animation fans in the US at this time, such that the Japanese origins of many of these titles were deliberately obscured when it came to English-language export. In the annals of anime history, the year 1980 itself is not typically remembered as any sort of milestone marker, particularly among us English-speaking fans. “The 1980s” as an overall decade is, and in part that’s because we are of a certain bias.

In 2013, there are two types of anime: those distinctly made and targeted for young children/families and those explicitly created by and for hardcore fans. For ease of this discussion, if you’re reading this then you’re probably in that second group with me. There’s some crossover, sure, but if something’s purely for Japanese families or little kids we simply don’t give a crap. My knowledge of Sazae-san is just enough to know it as the answer to a trivia question, but I’ve certainly never SEEN it.

No doubt this is why holistically speaking, “the 1980s” are commonly referred to (by non-Japanese fans, at least) as “the golden age of sci-fi anime” if not just “anime” overall: a time when Japan’s economic prosperity combined with the advent of home video resulted in the creation of a wide variety of animation much of which would later be deemed “for otaku.” Anime would offer action, sci-fi, space opera, violence, idealized romance, cute girls, naked breasts, sex, or perhaps some combination of the above (“sci-fi violent sex involving idealized cute girls who violently fight as we see their naked breasts”) for which no other form of available media could compare.

But this is 1980. The Original Video Animation hasn’t been invented to give rise to all of that just yet. Now I could take the easy way out and tell you all about the action and science fiction shows that you, the sort of person liable to be reading this website in the first place, no doubt already know about, but you know how the Internet works. You can pull up the same lists from the same online encyclopedias and databases as I can. So here’s the deal: before I write about Ideon and Be Forever Yamato and all that jazz, let’s stretch ourselves a bit first. Let’s do a few extra copy-paste operations such that for once we can make mention of all those children’s cartoons and Japanese family-oriented anime that by and large go ignored by contemporary commercial and fan endeavors alike.

I’m splitting this up into two sections, such that in the second part we’ll talk of the sort of things liable to be re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray for the collector’s market. So do me a favor and wait until then to comment about how I “forgot” to mention how Space Warrior Baldios gave rise to the “Heika” meme on 2chan despite the fact that I TOTALLY JUST DID, at which point I’ll give you the Internet finger.