Saturday, June 16, 2018

Forgotten Anime: “Lensman”

Distributor: Lumivision/Streamline Pictures (USA)
Original Year of Release: 1984
English Video Release: 1991, Laserdisc, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English “Closed Captioned” Subtitles (English dubbed NTSC and PAL VHS versions also released)
Japanese Title: SF Shinseiki Lensman
Runtime: 107 minutes

Most of Streamline Pictures' catalogue has been reissued over the years, except for a couple of exceptions. The most glaring one is the 1984 anime adaption of American’s sci-fi author E. E. “Doc” Smith’s “Lensman” series. Its absence in the current US anime video market is quite curious considering that many fans still fondly remember the film from its original US theatrical, video and TV broadcast releases. I suspect the film’s lack of a re-release may have to do with the estate of E. E. “Doc” Smith blocking it, but I have no evidence to prove this. I do know that the estate E. E. “Doc” Smith did not receive final script approval for the film and weren’t happy with the finished product. Strangely this did not stop any English language versions of the film being released in the west during the 1990’s.

Through a series of on screen title cards, the film explains that in the 25th century, humanity has spread out into the galaxy and come in contact with various alien civilisations. However not all contact has been peaceful. The Boskone race is currently in midst of conquering the universe, slowly but steadily taking over planets and turning them into colonies. In response to this, the Galactic Patrol has built a new spacecraft, the Britannia, in order to capture plans for top secret weapons built by the Boskone. This mission was carried out by a Lensman; a group of people who are all linked by the mysterious power of a “lens” somewhere on their body. Having successfully captured the Boskone’s plans, the Lensman in the Britannia flees with a fleet of Boskone ships in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile on the planet Mqueie, a young man, Kimball Kinnison, lives with his father, Gary Kinnison along with their robot helper Sol, on a large industrial farm. Kimball, or Kim for short, has decided that the farming life is not for him and plans to head to Earth, hitching a ride with a family friend, the alien humanoid Peter van Buskirk. However when Kim visits Buskirk’s ship in orbit around the planet, he is none too pleased with the rundown state it is in. Regardless, he still decides to leave. Gary invites Buskirk and Kim down for one last meal before they head off, but before they can set off to the planet’s surface Sol advises them that a large spacecraft has come out of hyperspace and is due to crash into the middle of the farm, wiping out everything and killing Gary. Kim immediately sets off to save his father. He flies his small personal craft to the out of control ship, which happens to be the Britannia, and boards. Inside the cockpit he finds a man unconscious and slumped over the controls. With the help of his father, Kim manages to slow the descent of the ship and lands it, albeit a little roughly, in the fields away from the farm.

Kim drags the unconscious and injured man out of the ship who awakes and asks him to relay important information to Admiral Haynes of the Galactic Patrol about the whereabouts of the Boskone’s “Devil Planet” which will determine the fate of the galaxy. The man then somehow transfers the lens on his hand to Kim’s hand and then loses consciousness again. Buskirk and Gary arrive and Kim explains what has happened which has them in disbelief. Buskirk checks on the unconscious man only to discover he has probably been dead for around two hours. Buskirk and Gary are mystified as a Lensman shouldn’t be able to transfer his lens to anyone else. Meanwhile the Boskone have reached the planet and begin to destroy it. Realising that Kim has a very important mission to complete, he orders Buskirk and Kim to board the Britannia and head straight to Galactic Patrol HQ while he acts as decoy in Buskirk’s ship. Kim refuses to obey as he fears his father will die. Gary knocks him out so Buskirk can carry him aboard and escape. The plan is a sucsess and the pair escape. However as Kim feared, his father is killed by the Boskone, who also obliterate the planet.

Later Buskirk tells Kim that his father was instrumental in founding the Galactic Patrol. Buskirk and Kim later discovers they aren’t the only people aboard the ship and mistakenly attack several members of Galactic Patrol who have boarded the Britannia looking for the now dead Lensman. Upon realising that Kim has a lens on his hand, the Galactic Patrol members question him. However they are interrupted by another attack by the Boskone who have caught up with the ship. The Galactic Patrol commander orders his subordinate, Clarissa “Chris” MacDougal to pilot the ship with Buskirk and Kim back to HQ while they fight off the Boskone in their ship. But the Galactic Patrol ship is destroyed. Chris tries to contact HQ but her line of communication is cut off. Chris manages to outrun the Boskone but the Britannia is heavily damaged and they are forced to leave hyperspace.

They land on the planet Delgon where the trio are attacked and abducted by the local plant life. While Chris and Buskirk are spirited away, Kim is saved by a fellow Lensman called Worsel, an alien of the Velantian race who has wings reminiscent of a bat and the ability to fly. Worsel teaches Kim how to use his lens properly. He also explains that the Chris and Buskirk have been abducted by the Overlords of Delgon, a group of snail like creatures who inhabit the planet and have been pacified by the Boskone using an addictive drug called Thionite. With Worsel’s help, Kim plans to free Chris and Buskirk.

As I mentioned in the introduction, this film is based upon E. E. “Doc” Smith’s “Lensman” series which originally began as series of short stories, first in the science fiction anthology “Amazing Stories” in 1934 as “Triplanetary” and in the late 1930’s to early 1940’s in “Astounding Stories” magazine. During the 1950’s, Smith retooled the stories into several novels. The series has a wealth of fantastical stories and elements such as Kim Kinnison being a product of a Atlantean eugenics program to create super humans and Chris who becomes his wife, coming from a similar program and has children who become immortal. In light of that, it seems really odd that the script writers chose a rather dull and safe story line for this adaptation. The film only uses elements from the novels and creates a story which bares little resemblance to any of Smith’s Lensman stories. In fact the story feels quite similar to “Star Wars: A New Hope” with Kim relegated to being a son of a farmer who wants to leave his home planet for adventures, Chris becoming a Princess Leia look alike, a RD-D2 like robot called Sol and the evil empire of the Boskone who want to take over the universe and destroy planets with as much ease as a Death Star.

There’s even a completely new character created for the film, DJ Bill, a name taken from the “Gray Lensman” book where Kim goes undercover as a Thionite addict under the name Wild Bill. In the anime version, the DJ Bill character is an aging DJ at a club frequented by aliens who takes in Chris and Kim and hides them from the Boskone forces who are hunting them down. The changes are quite frankly mystifying. Japanese publisher Kodansha was part of the production committee for the film and while they published several manga adaptations of the anime, there is no evidence they requested changes in the plot of the film. While some E. E. “Doc” Smith fan sites claim that the estate tried to sue the Japanese film production committee, I can find no evidence to support this. However Smith’s daughter, Verna Smith Trestrail, did successfully stop one US based comic book company from releasing English translations of Kodansha’s manga adaptation of the film.

The film was co-directed by Kazuyuki Hirokawa (“Arcadia of My Youth: Endless Orbit SSX”) and in his very first directorial role, Yoshiaki Kawajiri (“Wicked City”, “Ninja Scroll”), who also created the film’s storyboards and secondary character designs. The film was produced by Madhouse and for a film made in 1984, the animation still looks pretty good. Most of it is quite fluid and there are some excellent action sequences, mostly choreographed by Kawajiri. The alien designs for the Boskone are also a highlight. In fact most of the alien designs look quite unique, with the exception of some rather generic looking designs in the disco sequences. The film also makes extensive use of computer graphics. The same Cray Supercomputer that was used for effects on “2010: The Year We Make Contact”, also made the same year as this film, was used in this anime adaptation. “Lensman” opens with a rather impressive (for 1984 standards) three minute CG sequence with the Britannia being fired upon by a Boskone fleet. In all, there is approximately 10 or so minutes of computer animation in the film. Though most of it has not aged well, surprisingly the majority of it was created by the Japan Computer Graphics Lab and two other Japanese companies. Additional animation is credited to the Computer Graphic Laboratory at the New York Institute of Technology, who erroneously gets most of the credit for the animation in many reviews and articles about this film.

The film has received two English dubs; one via Harmony Gold in 1987 (released as “Lensman - Secret of the Lens”, which to this day I can’t find any evidence of any English language home video release anywhere) and Streamline Pictures’ 1990 theatrical release which had a subsequent home video release in 1991 in the US and in the UK and Australia in the years following. The version I have is a bilingual laserdisc released by Streamline Pictures through Lumivision. English subtitles for the original Japanese version can be accessed via Closed Captioned subtitles, which I couldn’t use due to the fact the disc was NTSC and I’d need an expensive decoder to see them on my TV (which is primarily made to receive a PAL format TV broadcasts). Instead I watched the English dub. The acting is relatively passable with the usual cast that appears in most Streamline dubs including Kerrigan Mahan, Edie Mirman, Gregory Snegoff, Michael Reynolds, Steve Kramer and Tom Wyner. Surprisingly most of the cast in the Streamline dub played the same roles in the 1987 Harmony Gold dub. Lumivision’s laserdisc is also unusual as the Japanese track is digital stereo while the English dub track has been regulated to the lower quality secondary analogue track.

Summing up, this is quite a mediocre adaptation of such a wild and imaginative science fiction series. The story is pretty bog standard and deviates little from most sci-fi films of the era. While the animation and designs are fantastic, the computer animated scenes have not stood the test of time and look rather creaky. The English adaptation and scripting are also a little bland, though this is probably due to the original script. I know this film does have its fans, however I’m not one of them. Perhaps one day a company like Discotek will re-release the film on DVD or blu-ray, however I suspect the estate of E. E. “Doc” Smith won’t let that happen. If you want to watch the film legitimately, the Streamline Pictures dub of the movie is pretty easy to find on eBay on VHS, in both PAL and NTSC versions. A follow up 25 episode anime TV series (directed by Kazuyuki Hirokawa) was broadcast a few months after this feature film. Harmony Gold made a compilation feature out of four episodes of this series called “Lensman - Power of the Lens” which did get a UK VHS release. I’ll be looking this tape at future date.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Anime On the Big Screen: “Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms”

Venue: Dendy Cinemas, Level 2, North Quarter, Canberra Centre, 148 Bunda Street, Canberra City, ACT
Date: Saturday 9 June 2018
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Format: Digital Projection, Japanese dialogue with English subtitles
Length: 115 minutes
Production Date: 2018
Currently on Home Video in English (as of writing): No

So far this year, the anime films Madman has decided to release to cinemas have been stunningly mediocre. A fair few of them have been compilation films, and then only the first or second parts of trilogy compilation films. I’m really not sure who is watching these films and if Madman makes any profit from them. Perhaps with the incredible success of “A Silent Voice” they think any anime in cinemas will be a winner for them. Anyway, yet again I’m off to see another anime film in the cinema. It was a typical Canberra winter day today, though so far the weather seems to indicate it's going to be a much milder winter than previous ones. It rained all morning, but during the afternoon the clouds parted and sun peeked through. Yet despite the wet weather the Canberra Centre was packed with people. Dendy now only shows anime films twice a day, both sessions in the late afternoon regardless if it’s a weekday or weekend; the first at 4pm, the second at 6pm. I went to the first session in which about 20 people of mixed ages, evenly split between the sexes, showed up. Now, on with the film;

Set in low fantasy world the film introduces us to an elf like race known as “The Clan of Partings”, who live in secret and are to the outside world immortal, but in reality are called the Iorph and live for several hundred years. However their appearance is of young teenagers who all have long blonde hair. Life seems extremely peaceful in their small community. The Iorph weave using a looms to create long fabrics called Hibiol. In these fabrics they write and communicate their feeling to others and keep a history of the Iorph. The Iorph also seem to call life itself Hibiol and to a large degree refuse to differentiate the fabric they weave and life itself. One young girl, Maquia, confides in the village elder, Racine, that she feels alone. Racine reminds her that if she leaves the community, she can never fall in love due to the fact normal humans are mortal and will die long before her.

Later at night, Maquia spots her friend Leiria, rushing past her window. Curious, she follows her and discovers she is meeting her new boyfriend, Klim. Maquia is pleased for her, but the joyful mood is halted by the arrival of several Renato, large dragon-like creatures. Riding them are soldiers from the army of neighbouring country Mezarte. They’re here to take the female Iorphs back to their king. Naturally the Iorph resist. To make things worse one of the Renato is suddenly struck down with “red eye”, a disease which makes the creatures go berserk. It takes off a crashes though the cathedral where Maquia is frantically looking for Racine. As the beat mindlessly lumbers through the cathedral destroying everything in its path, the long strips of Hibiol which line the cathedral wrap around it’s body and entangle Maquia. The creature breaks through the cathedral ceiling and flies into the night sky, with the “red eye” disease eventually ending its life as it literally burns up on the inside, crashing into the forest tens of kilometres from the Iorph’s village.

Maquia comes to and turns towards the village where she can see a glow. She cries out knowing it has been torched and destroyed by the Mezarte soldiers. Stumbling through the forest distraught, she comes to the edge of a cliff. Deciding to end it all and jump, she is stopped by the cry of a baby. Maquia follows the cries down to a campsite near a river where inside a tent she is horrified to discover that the camp was attacked by bandits and the crying baby still in her mother’s dead arms. A young trader named Barlow makes himself known which naturally frightens Maquia. He is aware that she is an Iorph and tells her to leave the baby to die. However Maquia refuses and decides to care for the baby boy. Wandering onto a nearby farm house near a small village, Maquia tries to get the baby to suckle on a goat’s teat, but is caught by the owner, Mido. Mido is a single mother with two boys, Isol and Lang. Mido also realises that Maquia is an Iorph and decides to help her out by supporting her, finding her a job weaving in town and dyeing her hair so she doesn’t attract the villagers attention.

Maquia names the orphan boy Ariel and he soon grows into a young boy. When the family dog dies, it dawns on Maquia that her new family will all perish before her which upsets her greatly. Later at her workplace, Maquia's employer makes a trade for a piece of Hibiol cloth which she reads and is horrified to discover that Leiria is to be married off to the prince of Mezarte. She decides to leave her adopted family and head to Mezarte with Ariel. En route, she reunites with Klim who tells her that several Iorph survivors are planning to free Leira before the wedding. While the group are successful at rescuing Leira, she tells Maquia and a disbelieving Klim she cannot go with them.

I won’t say any more about the plot as not to reveal spoilers. As you may have noticed on anime news websites, this film is a major vehicle for screenwriter Mari Okada. Okada has been a prolific script writer for a number of anime for the last two decades, however it’s only in last eight years or so that her reputation has grown. Screenwriting for “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day”, “Hanasaku Iroha” and “Anthem of the Heart” has catapulted her into the hearts of anime fandom. In more recent times she branched out into scripting live action films such as “My Teacher (Sensei!)” and “The Dark Maidens (Ankoku Joshi)”. Apparently the president of P.A. Works (the studio who animated this film) liked her work so much he gave her the chance to write and direct her own film (or more likely saw an opportunity to promote and market a new project off the back of a "hot" new talent).

Much like her previous movie screenplay, “Anthem of the Heart”, this film also revolves around motherhood and children. To those who have read Okada’s recent autobiography, “How I Went from Not Going to School to Writing Anohana and The Anthem of the Heart”, this should come as no surprise. The book deals with her life as a shut in teenager and her volatile relationship with her single mother. Though I think most of her life was captured in the script for “Anthem of the Heart” (or more correctly Okada got all of her angst about her mother out in that script), in this film the parent and child relationships are far more stable. It’s interesting to note that pretty much all of the promotional material seems to concentrate on fantasy aspect of the film and not the relationship aspect. Interestingly the two major parent and child relationships in the film are of single mothers. Other parent and child relationships in the film also focus on mothers.

I did find that aspect of the film really interesting, as well as the culture of the Iorph and the fact that the two major fantasy aspects of the film, the Iorph and the Renato, have become both endangered species on the verge of extinction in that world. There’s also the Iorph Klim who refuses to believe that his clan is heading into oblivion and manically sets about righting things in the belief his actions will ensure his species survival. Most of the world is fully realised and really well detailed. Okada also doesn’t over explain the world she has thrown the viewers into and is more content to let the viewers know only what is important to the story.

But the dreadfully melodramatic elements of the screenplay did annoy me to no end however. I understand that the relationships between Maquia and Ariel (as well as other relationships in the film) are highly emotional, but at times it came off as overly sentimental and schmaltzy. Like the awful “holy trio” of Key/Kyoto Animation anime (“Air”, “Kanon” and “Clannad”), this film was so maudlin at times it was almost laughable. It’s was so unbelievably manipulative times they should have just put up flashing subtitles saying “Cry now!”. Certainly I’ve seen worse, but as with a lot of modern anime subtlety can go out the window. Emotion is bluntly hammered home, both by the script and the actors who emote like their lives depended on it. It comes off as phony and unrealistic.

Despite the relatively talented staff, the film did feel a bit cheap. The animation by P.A. Works (“Shirobako”, “Angel Beats!”) barely gets a notch above TV anime series quality. Some of the CG cuts, especially a few shots of the Renato, look a little off. The character designs by Akihiko Yoshida (“Final Fantasy”) also seem a little bland in my opinion. One of the best elements is the score, by Kenji Kawai, however while it does reach some amazing heights, particularly in the opening scenes, it’s hardly his best work. Much of it is comparable to his synthesiser based TV work rather than the bulk of his orchestral based, ethereal sounding film soundtracks.

Overall I found this film to be a bit of a mixed bag. I really liked the world building and how the information was drip fed to audience on a need to know basis only. The relationships between the mothers and their children were explored really well. That as well as the fact there were several of these relationships explored in the film was really interesting and something you don’t normally see in an anime film. I also liked the idea of doomed species trying to find their way in the world, which has obviously changed for them, and not for the better. The life cycle of Ariel with Maquia coming to terms that she will outlive him is also explored quite well. But the overwrought melodrama did my head in. I was rolling my eyes at scenes I’m sure Okada was expecting to me to cry at.

I really don’t think these films are aimed at me. A lot of the time I do feel they are like a combination of plots, characters, and dialogue I’ve seen before remixed and presented as something brand new. I also feel that these types of films come off as rather safe and don’t take a lot of risks. Having said that I do think there are a lot of really original and intriguing elements to the story. I just wish the emotion had been toned down or made a bit more realistic. Like Naoko Yamada (“A Silent Voice”, “K-ON!”), Okada has been branded as an amazing new talent in the anime industry. I really don’t think she’s anywhere near Yamada in terms of direction, but like Yamada I think if given the right material (and maybe some mentoring) she will shine. In the end I think the melodrama killed a lot of the film for me. 6 out of 10. Oh, and by the way, remember to sit though the end credits for a post credits still shot!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Quitting Social Media, Following Fandom and My Personal Life

It was literally only three weeks ago that I was writing about how I was going to continue with my Anime Archivist project. In the weeks after that post I had written three new articles. I found this quite amazing as I had just come off a really rough period where I had spent a year trying to sort my parents lives out as both of them had to be put into a nursing home almost simultaneously. In the process I had to have a fair few weeks off work just to get things sorted out and for my own mental health as things began to unravel for me back in February just as was in the final stages of sorting everything out.

It's amazing how things change in such short time. My father got quite ill in the last three weeks and eventually died on Monday. While that's bad enough, sorting everything out in the wake of that is even more draining. Legally, financially, logistically and emotionally it's all a bit of a mess. It's pretty hard trying sort all that stuff out as well as the pressures of work (I will be off work for approximately three weeks just to sort stuff out) and the demands of some family members.

Even though it's only around nine weeks away, I'm still going on my two and a half week trip to Japan. I think I really need it. However I still have a lot to plan for that trip. I am a little down to say the least at the moment and am finding rather difficult trying to get motivated to complete what I need to do.

In the midst of all of this, I have decided to quit my twitter account. It's really not doing myself any good. To a large degree I find that a lot of the (alleged) "influencers" on that platform to be mostly wankers and some are rather divisive figures. What I don't understand is why some of these people target other sectors of fandom such as idol fandom and those who like moe elements in anime. Due to this and the utterly appalling way things like the recent Flying Colors Foundation nonsense were handled (or more correctly not handled) by supposedly professional people who call themselves journalists, well I wasn't all that impressed. As a result I think in the future I'll me limiting my exposure to fandom at large just for my own mental health. The drama really tires me out.

I was in the middle of writing up a couple of articles in regards to two issues I have with the way those in the upper echelon of anime fandom conduct themselves, but with everything that's going on, I've decided to put those on hold for a while. At this stage I'm not sure I'll even publish them at all. For now, I wouldn't expect much out his blog until after August. Hopefully by then things will have stabilised for me.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Dead English Language Tokusatsu Magazines: “Markalite”

Publisher: Pacific Rim Publishing Company
Format: A4 (Standard US Magazine Size)
Genre/Type: Tokusatsu, Anime, Japanese Cinema
Years Active: 1990 - 1991
Issues Published: 3

One of the rarest types of publication is the one dedicated to tokusatsu (Japanese special effects) films. Over the years I have searched high and low for magazines like this, but generally come up empty handed. I did discover Asian Trash Cinema (later named Asian Cult Cinema), but I was rather annoyed at its misogynistic tone and its focus on degrading exploitation films. G-Fan didn’t hold my interest either and seemed to have a very narrow focus on Godzilla. But there was one Tokusatsu magazine that stood head and shoulders above everything else; Markalite Magazine (a Markalite is the dish heat-ray weapon that appeared in some early Toho films, “The Mysterians” being the most widely known film to feature it).

The magazine was started by two of the most well-known men in tokusatsu fandom in America; August Ragone and Bob Johnson in 1990. Even now, there isn’t a great deal of information about tokusatsu films and TV series in English, especially compared to amount of information and resources that anime fans have at their disposal. This is why I find this magazine so amazing. It is just jam packed full of accurate, comprehensive and detailed information about a subject that was extremely hard to come across in the US. And that’s a claim that many of the English language anime magazines of the time couldn’t make. Certainly in some instances the information presented in those early publications wasn’t entirely accurate. It’s fair to say some of it was completely off the mark and rather misleading. But not Markalite. All of the three published issues ran around 96 pages and were practically filled to the brim of each page with interesting articles and information.

The debut issue had over 30 pages devoted to “Godzilla Vs Biolante”. There’s interviews with the director, the SFX director and even the man in the Godzilla suit, Kenpachiro Satsuma. But it doesn’t end there; we also have a long synopsis of the film, comprehensive biographies of the cast, a look at the special effects and behind the scenes, a complete cast and staff listing and some great side bars about why Godzilla never destroys the Imperial Place and who the heck that scary guy with make-up on was who made a brief appearance in the film (heavy metal singer and personality Demon Kakka). It’s just amazing. Most of the stuff in this magazine you can’t find on the web today.

Other really interesting articles included a listing of every tokusatsu TV show from the 1950’s to 1990 (including air dates, episode numbers, production company, actors and director), the role of aliens in Japanese sci-fi films, the Ultraman series, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla films and number of then current tokusatsu TV shows. The greater majority of these articles were extremely will written and researched and a joy to read. On the anime side of things, a couple of articles are included, mostly about older anime such as “Gigantor” and “Kimba the White Lion”. Both were written by Fred Patten, a veteran of sci-fi, anime and furry fandoms who would later work for Streamline Pictures. While I really respect Patten’s work as a whole, a third contribution, an opinion piece about how anime in the late 1980’s didn’t stand up to what had come before it, is pretty absurd, more so in hindsight. In the article Patten makes the claim that anime had gone down dramatically in quality since the introduction of the Original Video Animation (OVA) format, and things were never as good as they were in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. He cites the rather mediocre “Genma Taisen” (released as “Harmagedon” in the US) and the rather flawed and overly long “Phoenix 2772” as examples of great anime (amongst the Gundams, Macross’, Yamatos and Harlocks he mentions) which only makes it even more laughable. Yes, I suppose only crap was released after 1985; “Project A-ko”, “Megazone 23”, “Bubblegum Crisis”, “Kimagure Orange Road”, “Touch”, “Akira”, all of them trash. The article’s accompanying satirical cartoon has Astroboy smashing his way through an Ingram robot from “Patlabor”. Yeah, that was trash too, and that no good director Mamoru Oshii didn’t do much after that stinker. Oh, don’t get me started on the 1990’s. “Evangelion”? Bah, not that great. Yes, we should all be watching old anime from the 1960’s and 1970’s because it never got any better than that, apparently.

Markalite’s short run also included interviews with Sonny Chiba and Robert Dunham (an American actor who appeared in many of Toho’s 1960’s tokusatsu films), obituaries for Japanese actors Akihiko Hirata and Jun Tazaki, the Australian/Tsuburaya co-production “Ultraman: Towards the Future (Ultraman Great)” series, Akira Kurosawa’s film “Dreams”, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla films, Toho’s early special effects films, including the propaganda films made during World War II and the Hollywood live action adaptation of “The Guyver”. There are also some very intriguing titbits in the news section including a report on a never made remake of the 1960’s “Daimaijin” trilogy which was to be released in 1994 as a co-production between Daiei and Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest. There was some bad stuff in the magazine though; some of the writing, other than from Ragone or Johnson, felt a bit fanish and unprofessional. One issue had four reviews of “Godzilla Vs Biolante” over two or three pages, which felt really redundant. Some of the reviews also were rather overly critical of and unfair to films themselves, seeing as most of these films were low budget and B-grade. The magazine also included Maraklite Maidens, a pull out centrefold which usually taken from publicity shots from various films. Perhaps now days this could be seen as a little sexist.

Unfortunately disaster stuck the company only after three issues. Their publisher had some issues with the anime magazine he was publishing, Animag magazine which I have previously written about. Animag took their magazine elsewhere, and this must have been too much for the publisher financially, who delayed the publication of issue 4 of Markalite for over a year. The editors of Markalite eventually threatened to sue and they got their layouts of the magazine back, which were left on Johnson’s porch, water damaged in a plastic shopping bag. After that, the publisher allegedly skipped the state to avoid creditors, leaving Ragone and Johnson $1,200 in debt and having no way to contact the subscribers of the magazine as the publisher handled the subscriptions and had all of the addresses. What an absolutely horrible way for any magazine to end its life, and rather demoralising for its creators and editors. Afterwards some of the material meant for issue 4 ended up online at the Henshin Online website and also in the newsletter “Henshin!”. “Kaiju Fan” was the successor to “Markalite”, but I still haven’t found any issues of that. Bob Johnson would later co-found the SciFi Japan website, while August Ragone would continuing writing about tokusatsu films and would later write the book “Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters”.

For myself who has a bit more than a passing interest in tokusatsu TV series and films, I find it really disappointing that there isn’t a magazine out there which explores it in depth as Markalite did. Sure, the occasional articles in “Otaku USA” are great, but still I’d like a 100% tokusatsu focused magazine which looked at old and new series that I could pick up from my local comic book shop every time it came out. And sure “everything” is on the internet now days, but sometimes I think I’d prefer reading a magazine and discovering stuff I’d never find out about otherwise.

Unfortunately a lot of the coverage we do get, especially in mainstream coverage of the genre, is quite ignorant of the long history of the genre, it's tropes and conventions. Even today, most modern tokusatsu coverage still hasn't advanced much beyond cliches about men in rubber suits destroying miniature cardboard buildings (when of course it's plainly obvious that cardboard has never been used to create buildings in any tokusatsu film or TV series). In light of that, Markalite's existence and short life span is even more remarkable.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Anime Music Video Compilations: “Ranma ½ Hot Song Contest – Part 1”

Publisher: 5-Ace (Pony Canyon)
Format: VHS, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue
Length: 22 minutes
Original Release Date: 7 November 1990
Animation Exclusive to this Release: Yes
Other Sources (Japanese unless noted): Ranma ½ Hot Song Contest (Laserdisc, VHS 1990), Ranma ½ Hot Song Contest (DVD 2002)
Currently Availability (as of writing): Out of Print

Despite the fact my early foray into anime fandom was the mid 1990’s, surprisingly I was never a fan of the “Ranma ½” franchise. Although little of the series was released on video in Australia (one OVA, one movie from memory), I found many local fans had paid a fair amount of cash to import Viz’s English dubbed VHS tapes. This was unsurprising as the series was huge in western fandom at the time. Based on yet another one of Rumiko Takahashi’s long running manga series and serialised in Shonen Sunday, the core anime adaptation (outside later specials) ran from 1989 to 1996 with numerous TV series, OVAs and movies. While Viz in the US released pretty much everything anime related to the franchise, this music video compilation, which is completely made up of brand new animation, was ignored by the company. I suspect that either a music rights issue or the fact it was too hard to dub the songs forced Viz to scrap any English language release of it. The video uses songs from the “Hot Songs Contest” Image album which was released in April 1990. For those who don’t know, an Image album is one where the voice actors perform songs in character. Kenji Kawai (of “Patlabor” and “Ghost in the Shell” fame) wrote the music for all the songs, though several writers wrote the lyrics. Two videos were released compiling all the songs from the album, both in November 1990. I’ll be looking the first video. But before we get to the individual music videos, I better tell you about the series;

Soun Tendo, head of the Tendo Dojo, is overjoyed that Genma Saotome and his son, Ranma are coming to visit. Genma, like Soun, is a practitioner of the “Anything-Goes School” of martial arts. Years ago Genma promised Ranma would marry one of Soun’s daughters so the Tendo Dojo would carry on for at least another generation. However the girls, 19 year old Kasumi Tendo, 17 year old Nabiki Tendo, and 16 year old Akane Tendo aren’t all that terribly impressed that one of them will be in an arranged marriage. Rather than two men arriving at the Dojo, the Tendo family are absolutely dumbfounded when a teenage girl and panda end up on their doorstep, fighting each other. The girl later introduces herself as Ranma Saotome which only confuses them further. The odd pair explain that a month ago, Ranma and Genma trekked to China to train at the fabled Jusenkyo spring. However during their intense training, Ranma fell into the “Spring of Drowned Girl” while Genma fell into the “Spring of Drowned Panda”. Both have been cursed; when splashed with cold water they respectively turn into a girl and a panda. Hot water returns them to their original forms. Katsumi and Nabiki nominate Akane to be Ranma’s bride; however the Akane and Ranma refuse, despite their father’s insistence. However as the series progresses, they end up being closer to each other, although almost always end up bickering and fighting with each other.

Though wanting to return to the Jusenkyo spring in order to rid himself of the curse, Ranma ends up going to Furinkan High School with Akane. There Ranma has a rival for Akane’s affections, Tatewaki Kuno, the conceited captain of the school’s kendo team. But not only is he after Akane, he falls for Ranma’s female form as well. His sister, Kodachi Kuno, captain of the gymnastics team at an all-girls school, ends up being infatuated with the male form of Ranma. Yet another suitor for Akane arrives in the form of the Ryoga Hibiki, who has a terrible sense of direction and is always lost. In addition Ryoga also wants revenge on Ranma as he followed him to the Jusenkyo spring where he promptly fell into the “Spring of the Drowned Piglet”. Unware that Ryoga turns into a small black piglet when splashed with cold water, Akane takes in the piglet as a pet and names it P-chan. Ryoga uses Akane’s affection for him in piglet form to deliberately frustrate and anger Ranma. As the series progresses, several other characters appear, most whom have had contact with various cursed springs at Jusenkyo including Chinese Amazon Shampoo, who turns into a cat and is after Ranma’s affections and her childhood friend Mousse who becomes Ranma’s rival who turns into a duck. Other major characters include Happosai who is the elderly perverted founder and grandmaster of Anything Goes Martial Arts ,and Azusa Shiratori and Mikado Sanzenin, the figure skating golden pair of Ranma and Akane’s school who just had fuel to the fire falling for various members of the Tendo household.

Once this main cast of characters is introduced, the series follows a formula of slapstick comedy with plenty of misunderstandings between various characters, most of which are never really resolved by the end of the episode in order to reuse the same misunderstandings for comedic effect later on. With that intro out of the way, time to talk about the videos;

“Little Date (TV Service Version)” Performed by Ranma, Akane and Shampoo [Megumi Hayashibara, Noriko Hidaka and Rei Sakuma]
The video compilation opens up with Shirokuro (Checkers in the English dub), Ryoga Hibiki's pet dog and Ryoga himself in P-chan form, switching on a TV. We are then introduced to the hosts of this video special; the nameless Chinese guide from Jusenkyo spring and Sasuke Sarugakure, the ninja of the Kuno family. After some brief introductions we are thrown into the first video, “Little Date”. This was originally the opening theme to the second TV series and performed by idol group Ribbon. This version is a remake with the voice actors for the female type Ranma, as well Akane and Shampoo singing the theme in character. The video is a simple affair which shows off the main characters and the choruses showing the main cast dancing. Unlike the other songs in this compilation, Tsugutoshi Goto wrote the music thought Kenji Kawai arranged the track for this version.

“Anything-Goes Martial Arts Goes On ~ Panda Can't Sing the Song (Musabetsu Kakutou Icchokusen ~ Panda wa Uta wo Utaenai)” Performed by Genma Saotome [Kenichi Ogata]
The song title is literally a synopsis of the music video. Genma prepares to sing a song and asks Ranma to give him a glass of water. Ranma responds enthusiastically by throwing a glass of water to him, which naturally spills over Genma. In panda form Genma attempts to sing, while the Tendo household stare with their mouths agape. The video is sot mostly in the dark with spotlights passing the cast (I’m assuming to hide the limited animation), and due to the lack of light, Genma bumps into Ranma, which causes them to fight. Eventually water is spilt of Ranma which transforms him into his female form. This continues on until the set on the soundstage is destroyed. Afterwards a commercial appears for the Neko Shopping Network advertising the Nekohaten restaurant. Katsumi and Nabiki star along with Genma and Soun Tendo who appear dressed as housewives.

Love Letter from China (China kara no Tegami) Performed by Ranma & Ranma [Megumi Hayashibara and Kappei Yamaguchi]
The next video mimics a clichéd ballad done in a duet style and also satirises karaoke videos, including the subtitles and the old style laserdisc karaoke machines. The video shows the doomed love of Happosai and Shampoo’s great grandmother Cologne and is portrayed in the style of an old Japanese drama. The song is sung by moth the male and female version of Ranama, with someone throwing hot or cold water on Ranma at appropriate timers to create the duet effect. While I find the metamorphosis gag in “Ranma ½” to be generally tiring, here the gag is used really effectively and is quite amusing. Afterwards Ryoga comes on to perform but is splashed with water and turns into P-chan. The Jusenkyo guide and Sasuke start to introduce Ryoga but are puzzled at his sudden disappearance.

“Uncute, Unsexy (Kawaikunee, Iroke ga nee)” Performed by Ranma [Kappei Yamaguchi]
This upbeat number has Ranma initially training and then fighting off a number of Akane’s suitors and rivals such as Ryoga Hibiki, Mousse, Happosai and Tatewaki Kuno. A great deal of the video is dedicated to various individual fights between those characters and Ranma and also a some sequences where all four team up to fight Ranma. The choruses have close ups of Ranma singing whilst two of his rivals squeeze the frame Ranma is in to push him out of the picture. Ranma retaliates usually by squashing his rivals. Akane later shows up the video joining Ranama, much to Ryoga’s frustrations, though some of the other rivals try to woo Akane.

“Two-Part Secret Heart (Heart Naisho/2)” Performed by Akane [Noriko Hidaka]
The Jusenkyo guide and Sasuke cross live to Tatewaki Kuno who is outside a concert hall which is hosting an idol concert featuring Akane. Tatewaki proclaims himself to be the head of Akane’s fanclub and rushes into the concert hall with a camera to film the concert. Akane jumps on stage in a stereotypical idol dress of the era and the enthusiastic audience performing the clichéd chants and calls at the appropriate times during the song. During one section of the song, Akane points at the audience with Tatewaki mistakenly thinking it is aimed directly at him. He gets over excited and rushes toward the stage which freaks out Akane who runs off stage in terror. Concert security tries to subdue him with the camera falling to the ground and eventually fading to static. Afterwards we are treated to faux theatrical trailer for an action film where Mousse is seen on top of the burning Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building fighting a helicopter and Shampoo is seen inside the Forbidden City in Beijing.

“Akane's Lullaby (Akane no Komoriuta)” Performed by Akane [Noriko Hidaka]
The final video is a collection of story book-like water colours mostly revolving around Akane and her nearest and dearest. The end credits are displayed over the top of the artwork. And that’s the end of the video. The second part, which I’ll be covering down the track sometime, was released about two weeks after this video.

As I said before, I was never a fan of this franchise, I tried getting into the series again after Viz Media began releasing the series on blu-ray, but soon discovered that after the main cast were introduced, it’s pretty much a one note joke revolving around easily resolved misunderstandings and the supposedly hilarious switching back and forth of various characters with water due to the curse placed on them by Jusenkyo spring. I find that sort of humour tiresome but note that a lot of Rumiko Takahashi’s popular longer works adhere to similar types of formulas for their humour. One of the problems I do have with “Ranma ½” as a franchise is that it hasn't aged well. In particular the deceptions of Chinese people seem to veer on rather unpleasant racist stereotypes.

Having said that, I do find a lot of the videos in this collection really funny. I think in smaller doses, “Ranma ½” can be very amusing. It still baffles me though as to why Viz never bothered to release this compilation, even as a sub only extra. In Japan the compilation was compiled with the second part on VHS and laserdisc in December 1990 (less than a month after the original separate VHS releases) and later on DVD in 2002. Strangely (as far as I can see) the compilation was never re-released as part of any DVD or blu-ray box set along with the TV series, OVAs or movies. The compilation is currently out of print in all formats. You can buy the separate VHS tapes for as little as ¥1, but the tape containing both parts usually sells at about less than ¥1,000 in the second hand market. The laserdisc version sells for a little more than that. I found one set of new shrink-wrapped VHS tapes (both part 1 and 2) being sold for an astronomical ¥65,000. The DVD is quite rare. Second hand copies run well over ¥10,000.

In conclusion, this is a pretty fun music video compilation that should please both the casual and hard core “Ranma ½” fan. The main impediment for most fans however is the cost and rarity of the video itself in a legitimate format.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Obscurities in the Western Connection Catalogue: “Salamander”

Release Date: 23 January 1995 - 27 March 1995
Format: PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles
Runtime: 3 episodes x 50 mins
Catalogue Numbers: WEST026, WEST030, WEST034
Japanese Title: Salamander
Japanese Production Date: 1988 – 1989

It’s been nearly four years, but I think I’m finally going to be able to do a few more articles for my long running Anime Archivist project, which was originally a continuation/rebirthing of my Lost World of Anime website and blog. So for my very first article back, I’m going to continue on with the fifth part in my series on the utterly obscure 1990’s UK based video distributor Western Connection and weird and wonderful anime titles that they released in English that no one else bothered to re-release anywhere else. 1995 was the most productive and also the final year of the company. They began that year with another obscure title, “Salamander”, which was based on a scrolling shooter video game and two games which preceded it. First, a rundown of the story;

In the depths of space, Lee McBain, a high ranking official for the nation planet of Gladius, is returning home in his spacecraft after a rather successful trip in which he completed several treaties with neighbouring planets. After recording a verbal report, the ship’s crew notice what seems to be a group of spacecraft tailing them on their radar. However they cannot make a visual sighting of their pursuers. Soon they notice that stars are vanishing and realise that a strange type of gas is surrounding the ship. But escape is impossible, no matter how they try. The crew spot a scaled creature in the gas just as the ship crushed and destroyed.

Meanwhile in orbit around Gladius, three cadet pilots in the space force, Eddy, Dan and Lee McBain’s daughter, Stephanie, are investigating a wrecked space craft which has drifted into Gladius' orbit. Inside the trio discover a cryogenic chamber filled with dead alien bodies. Much to their surprise they discover a beautiful woman, unlike the other aliens is human in appearance, still alive in a frozen cryogenic state. A holographic message embedded in the cryogenic machine tells them that her name is Paola and she is from the fifth planet of the Sonar system. The message also has a further, darker warning; Paola's planet was attacked by an invading force called the Bacterian. First the stars were blocked out by a thick gas and it eventually reached the planet's surface, where it turned everything inorganic on the planet into a massive horrifying organic creature. The surviving inhabitants escaped, but where pursued ruthlessly by Bacterian fighters. Paola was the only survivor.

The Gladius government are deeply worried by this message and debate if Paola’s message is true. Not completely convinced of the threat, Eddy, Dan and Stephanie are assigned the task of observing Paola, who only seems to meditate. Dan is immediately suspicious of her and wonders why is she so calm after the home planet has been destroyed. However Eddy believes her and is upset with Dan's scepticism. Stephanie's only concern is that her father hasn't been found after the space craft he was travelling back to Gladius on disappeared. Eventually the stars cannot be seen from Gladius' surface as a thick black gas surrounds the planet. It is evident that Paola was telling the truth. Eddy asks Paola if she can tell with her telepathy where the Bacterian base is. She tells them that it is near the seventh planet of their solar system. The trio advise their superior officers and are given permission to investigate. But as they near the planet, a voice tells Stephanie not to approach, which she brushes off as her imagination playing tricks on her. They are shocked to discover the planet has turned into a gigantic organic creature that spits out weird monster-like creatures that attack the group's fighters. Through the gas they spot the Bacterian's main carrier and thousands upon thousands of fighters. The alien fighters begin their attack, with Eddy firing back at them. But soon the sheer numbers overwhelm the trio. Luckily the voice in Stephanie's head helps them dodge them and escape. Stephanie soon recognises the voice; it is her father's.

Upon their return Eddy is severely reprimanded by their commanding officer for firing on the enemy, something they were instructed not do, they were to observe only. Despite the fact he has discovered the weakness of the enemy fighters and in spite of Dan and Stephanie's protests, Eddy is demoted to Ground Division. He ends up being assigned to watching over Paola again. She tells him that Gladius has an ancient device that can control the Bacterians. She believes she can find it via her telepathy, and both set off in a fighter to track the object down. Meanwhile the Gladius Attack Force heads for a confrontation with the Bacterian base. Stephanie's father contacts her again via ESP and tells them that they are headed for a decoy and real base is elsewhere. He explains to her that he is in the Fortress “Zero”, and gives her the co-ordinates. Dan follows her when she breaks unexpectedly from the attack force. Both of them enter the fortress and in the centre of it Stephanie is shocked to discover the truth. Back on Gladius, Paola and Eddy have discovered the “controller”. It is an ancient obelisk, seen nothing more as tourist attraction by the locals. When Paola tries to get near it, it rises out of the ground and attacks her. Eddy decides to destroy it to stop it from killing Paola. When the dust settles, Eddy realises he has made the biggest mistake of his life.

This three part OVA is mostly based off a mid-1980's arcade video game called “Salamander” (released as "Life Force" in the USA and Europe in home console versions) was released, produced and funded by the game's maker, Konami. As with the many anime adaptations based on video games, unfortunately this adaptation suffers due to its original source material, especially with mecha and the Bacterian design. But the staff of the series have given their best shot at making something decent out of these limitations. You might have already guessed from the pictures that Haruhiko Mikimoto (“Macross”, “Gunbuster”, “Gundam 0080”) provides the character designs. Director, the late Hisayuki Toriumi (“Gatchaman”, “Like the Clouds, Like the Wind”, “Area 88”), did a great job with the material and for the most part keeps the story moving along at a good pace without it turning into one battle after another. In fact the focus here is on the characters and the battles are rarely touched upon. That's quite a feat considering it's based upon a scrolling shooter game. Using the rather limited graphics from the game, the staff also create a truly creepy Bacterian race, with grotesque planets with pulsating organs and other surreal and bizarre imagery including strange alien fighters and giant golden screaming skulls.

But what suffers most in the series is the mecha design and the contradictory nature of the Bacterian. The invaders are supposedly organic in nature. Generally they take the form of Salamanders and turn planets into heaving great hulks of organic flesh. The metallic fighters and their base seem really out of place. Why would the Bacterian need to have inorganic machines to do battle for them? It's also obvious that a lot of the designs such as the fighters and ships, have been incorporated fairly faithfully into the anime. This however makes the designs look incredibly dated when compared to other mecha design in anime of that period. As with the staff, the cast include some well-known names who give good performances; Kazuhiko Inoue (Ninzaburo Shiratori in “Detective Conan”, Kakashi Hatake in “Naruto”),  plays as Eddy Evans, Kouji Tsujitani voices Dan (Yakumo Fujii in “3x3 Eyes”, Justy Ueki Tylor in “Irresponsible Captain Tylor”), Noriko Hidaka as Stephanie McBain (Noriko Takaya in “Gunbuster”, Shiny Chariot in “Little Witch Academia”, Akane Tendo in “Ranma ½”), the late Hirotaka Suzuoki was cast as Lord British (Bright Noa in the “Gundam” series, Dragon Shiryu in “Saint Seiya”) and finally Sumi Shimamoto as Paola (Ginrei in “Giant Robo”, Nausicaä in “Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind”).

While the first OVA deals with the invasion of Gladius, the two remaining episodes take a different tact and are quite interesting. The second episode (based on the game’s predecessor, “Gradius”) involves the planet Lotus. It's ruler, the young and dashing Lord British calls on Dan, Eddy and Stephanie to help them fight the Bacterian when their obelisk that protects them is accidentally broken. Along the way we discover dark secrets in Eddy's past and Lord British decides that Stephanie would make a good queen. The third episode (based upon the “Gradius II” game) has Stephanie being kidnapped by the Bacterian for the purpose of having her brain melded into a super Bacterian creature named Gopher. Lord British and Dan set off to save her. The better parts “Salamander” are when it ignores games it was based on and the staff creates new stories and scenarios. The second OVA is the best of the lot and adds a lot of depth to the characters.

As per usual Western Connection's adaptation and handling of the product is very poor. The subtitles on these three tapes are pretty appalling for a commercial product. Jonathan Clements's translation is good, but the subtitle timing is woefully off, even more so than their other releases, and there's also typos galore during all three tapes. Watching the tapes is a pretty painful experience due to these subtitles. While I can generally figure out who said what, it just makes for a completely frustrating viewing experience as the subtitles appear so randomly that you don't know when they'll appear next. This anticipation really lessens any enjoyment the viewer gets out of the show. The packaging of the tapes have a few problems too. The cover of the second tape is an extremely crappy photoshopped (like a very early version of Photoshop) one that they've put together themselves out of random screenshots from the series. It's shoddily done and quite ugly. The synopses on the back of the second and third tapes are surprisingly their own, are intelligible (for a change) and actually resemble what's on the tape, but the first tape is clearly culled from Helen McCarthy's review of the series in Anime UK magazine (something Western Connection did consistently for it's releases), which mentions parts of the plot for the second tape. As a bonus, Western Connection have included the advert for one of the early “Salamander” console games at the end of the third volume. However I suspect this was just laziness on the part of Western Connection and was on the end of the original master tape they received.

Overall “Salamander” ends up being an average series despite the staff's best efforts. It works best when it ignores its origins and branches off into new stories. The staff has tried their best using the source material, but in the end it has really hampered them. Still, I quite liked this series, although it went on for too long in places. As you can imagine, trying to track down copies of the series released over 23 years ago is pretty difficult, but not impossible. Amazingly you can still find copies of Western Connection's VHS tapes, but only the first volume. I found two copies for sale on Amazon.co.uk for around £13 each and one copy on eBay for £8. I only managed to pick up the final part of the series more than decade ago after I accidentally came across a webpage where a European fan was selling off his old anime VHS collection. The series was only ever initially issued on VHS and laserdisc in Japan. It never made the leap to DVD, let alone Blu-ray. I would only recommend the series to those who like the original games, or are big fans of 1980's anime. It's fun, but not something that you'll regret not ever seeing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The End and the Beginning of the Anime Archivist, and Future Plans

It's taken over eight months, but I've finally republished (and modified and updated) all of the material from my old blog, The Anime Archivist, which ran for a few years, but I abandoned in 2014. Now that I have transferred all the material over, I have deleted the old blog.

You may note I have now changed the title of this blog to the Anime Archivist. Not 100% sure if I'll kept the name or change to something else yet again. This is the third name I've had for this blog. The original plan I had when I transferred all the material over from my old blog was to keep on going in the same vein and continue to write posts based on the ones I've previously published; ones about anime music video compilations, out of print English language VHS and Laserdisc titles that never made the leap to DVD or Blu-ray, writing up the remaining Western Connection titles the company released, and looking at titles on DVD and Blu-ray (out of print and in print) that fans just ignored or have been forgotten by fandom. I also had planed to keep writing about any anime films I go to see in the cinema, any fan events I attend and to keep writing about my trips to Japan.

Due to a number of issues which have cropped up and changed my life forever, honestly I'm not to sure what I'm going to do with this blog. Currently I'm having a bit of trouble finding time to do any of the writing or finding time to update the two websites I have in addition to this blog. It's been a really tough 12 months for me as both my parents had to be put into a nursing home, almost simultaneously. By myself I had to sort out their financial matters, legal matters (they only had power of attorney for each other), what to do with the house and contents, the car, their dog, upkeep of the house while it was vacant, pay all of the bills, collect the mail etc. Worse was the fact both of them lived over 200 kilometres away. The stress of work and other factors didn't really help the situation either.

At any rate, most of that stuff is sorted out, more or less. But in the last six weeks I've fallen in a heap due to the stress of it all and have had nearly a month of that time off. Most of that was due to taking an anti-anxiety medication and reacting very badly to it. I've weaned myself off the tablets over the last week or so, and have only started to feel normal again in the last day or so.

So in the short term, I plan to keep writing as much as possible, when I can. I think I'll go back to doing reviews of my backlog, as it's pretty enormous now due to the fact I hadn't felt like watching any of it or doing anything else for that matter. Hopefully I'll get back to the core articles that were part of the original the Anime Archivist blog as well as updating, rewriting and formatting old articles I had written for my old Lost World of Anime website and blog around a decade ago.

I'm also planning yet another trip to Japan, this time in the life sapping humidity and heat of late July and early August, mostly so I can experience Wonder Festival and Comic Market, as both events are held close together during that time of year. In between those two events, there's at least one local festival or summer event held in the metropolitan Tokyo area almost every day, so I'm planning to see as many of those, as long as I don't die of heat exhaustion... Planning for this trip is really only about a quarter or half done (but the flights and accommodation are of course already booked), so I expect a lot of downtime on this blog while I plan for the trip.

In short, the plan is not to abandon this blog. Unlike most blogs of this kind, I do this mostly out of fun for myself and I don't care if I have an audience or not. I know I'm generally out of step and sync with the wider anime fandom community anyway. I plan to continue writing about the stuff I enjoy and about material that generally no one else seems to write or care about.