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.

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