• When online friend Ollie Barder dropped a note that Red Photon Zillion was available in North America on Blu Ray I wasted no time securing my copy. I tried to watch it years ago but I could only get the first half of the series. I’ve finally been able to watch it all with subtitles.

    Red Photon Zillion aired in 1987 and lasted 31 episodes. It tells the story of the White Nuts, an elite team of sharp shooters armed with special zillion energy weapons, as they try to prevent an invasion by hostile aliens called the Noza. After landing their forces on the human colony world of Maris, The Noza are successfully pursuing a campaign to wipe out the humans and dominate the planet. Noza forces are unaffected by all but the heaviest of human weapons and their soldiers advance almost unchallenged.

    Three relics are found in the ruins of the aliens that lived on Maris centuries ago and incorporated into energy pistols called zillion guns. Humans are unable to produce more so they hurriedly put the guns into the hands of three elite sharp shooters: JJ, Champ and Apple (pictured above). These three form the core of the White Nuts who are supported by technician Dave, coordinater Emi and lead by Mr. Gord. The White Nuts have three elite combat vehicles – one for air, land and water – and use transforming motor bikes.

    Baron Ricks
    Baron Ricks, the lethal commander of the Zoza forces who later goes rogue

    The show has an upbeat atmosphere and focuses on the action. Each episode is a new challenge as the Noza press their invasion. In time, we see the Noza suffer from short life spans and are under pressure to complete their conquest before their lives end abruptly and the next generation emerges from their cocoons.

    The characters were fun and appealing (something rare in recent anime) and the villains were appropriately menacing. The Noza general Baron Ricks was particularly interesting. His strong sense of honor and independence made him a scene-stealer.

    Zillion is a great show and I certainly recommend it to science-fiction and anime fans. It’s also appropriate for all ages. Although they avoid technical details, the attention to story and science-fiction themes made this a show that ages well. The Noza are presented as alien beings with their own biology and motivations. Planet Maris is much like Earth but the frequent eclipses and alien ruins set it apart and make it interesting.

    Zillion has an interesting footnote. It was originally created as a promotion for the Light Phaser, a peripheral for the Sega Master System. During the first half of the show, the three main characters’ zillion guns looked exactly like the Light Phaser and even had cords that went to a box connected to the heroes’ belts. I had to smile during one episode when JJ twirled his zillion gun on its cord. It’s hard to make dangling cords look cool. Even though the show was a toy commercial the studio creating the show decided to give a damn and gave us a TV show that’s worth owning on DVD. Sega returned the favor and there are two Zillion video games.

    In 1988 the TV show was followed up by an OVA, Zillion: Burning Night. I only found out about the OVA when my DVDs arrived. Rather than give us another Zillion story the OVA gives us the same characters in an alternate universe. Here, the technology is late 20th century and the five Noza from the TV show who have names appear as humans. The zillion guns appear as they did in the 2nd half of the show and instead of firing red energy they are standard guns. They are still special because all other guns have been confiscated by the villains. Although this may seem odd to westerners, those familiar with East Asian history know that there were many times when the authorities made weapons very scarce and commoners had to improvise their own crude weapons to have a decent rebellion.

    The White Nuts is now a rock band and instead of being a talented sharp shooter, JJ is a gifted brawler. I laughed when I remembered the fascination mid and late 80’s anime had with rock bands. Countless mecha pilots, martial artists, private eyes and high school kids were transformed into rock musicians who played to large, adoring audiences.

    The Noza matriarch Admiss is now a middle-aged woman with three adult children (the three elite cyborg Noza soldiers from the TV series) who lives in a fortress that oppresses the surrounding countryside. Apple is kidnapped to become a forced bride to one of Admiss’ sons. Champ and JJ infiltrate the fortress to rescue her and come face to face with Admiss’ hired enforcer, a human Baron Ricks who now wields a whip. The OVA was fun but my desire to see a science-fiction side story in the same universe as the TV series left me disappointed.

    Zillion is a great anime TV show and if you haven’t seen it now is a great time to pick it up.

    Tags: ,

  • Robot
    Robot was Tom Baker’s first story

    After many years of hearing about it, I finally got curious enough to sample some Doctor Who. I had heard Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor, was among the most popular and it’s his face I remember seeing on PBS briefly when I was quite young. His first story was Robot from 1974.

    I really enjoyed the 4 episode story. I had been warned by people about the low budget special effects but I have never been put off by that. I have always held the view that I would rather see people film their story with a low budget and poor special effects rather than never film it at all. I believe it is the job of every science-fiction fan to not only suspend disbelief when watching science-fiction but also suspend unreasonably high standards for visuals.

    Tom Baker was a lot of fun to watch. I understand now why a generation of science-fiction fans in Britain took a liking to him. Elisabeth Sladen had a prominent role as a young reporter but she didn’t impress me at all. Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier was great. I’ve heard he became a fan favorite and returned many times to the show.

    I was disappointed to see nothing in the way of information on time lords or the Tardis. As a new viewer of sorts I wanted to see how the world of Doctor Who treated those concepts. I rented the episodes from Netflix which is only prepared to show me one more story before their DVD supply cuts off. I’m very disappointed that Netflix is dropping their DVD selection in favor of streaming titles that don’t interest anyone at my house. My only other option is to buy the DVDs and I’m not sure I’m that dedicated at this point.

    Tags: ,

  • anime, Manga 13.05.2018 1 Comment

    This week I finished reading through a fan translation of Bartender.  Bartender is a manga that started in 2004 by Joh Araki with art by Nagatomo Kenji.  I first encountered it as the 11 episode anime show from 2006.  I really enjoyed the anime so I jumped at the chance to read the manga.  I was very glad I did.

    At first it comes across as a slice-of-life story that follows Sasakura Ryu, a young bartender in Tokyo, as he navigates the problems and odd customers that are a part of the service industry.  The manga’s true story line emerges slowly as the chapters progress.  We see Ryu take on new challenges in order to develop his career as he grows closer to a young woman who is the granddaughter of an elderly hotel chain owner.  Ryu is dedicated to developing his skill as a bartender but that is only a means to an end.  His true goal is to serve the “glass of the gods”, that is, to use his talents to offer customers a drink that will heal their soul.

    The theme of the manga is people connecting with other people in little, seemingly unimportant ways that heal their wounds and improve their lives.  Ryu’s father was a famous and ruthless politician that crushed countless opponents. Ryu wants to take the opposite approach to life and heal others through insightful, considerate service.  Ryu is a sensitive soul gifted with strong observational skills.  He’s the kind of person that notices small gestures and details of his customers and uses the knowledge to select just the right drink and start a conversation that will do them good.

    The manga tells a gentle, subtle story that, while not exactly action-packed, is a joy to read.  I recommend it to those who want to take a break from high adventure and follow a milder story with appealing characters.

  •  

     

     

    The theater poster for the new Mazinger Z: Infinity movie.

    Fathom Events brought the new movie Mazinger Z: Infinity to Austin, TX for 2 days only.  I took my 2 older boys to see it in the theater.  The movie was a lot of fun to see.  I’m glad I took the time.  I wouldn’t even have known of the event unless my friend Ollie Barder hadn’t told me.

    The movie’s story takes place 10 years after the events of the Mazinger Z TV series (although they kind of ignored the full time line established by Great Mazinger).  Kabuto Koji and the other characters are older and have moved on with their lives.  The discovery of a massive robot that resembles the Mazinger robots is discovered in the base of Mt. Fuji.  Soon after Dr. Hell’s mechanical beast army reappears and announces the return of the fearsome villain.  Dr. Hell seizes control of the recently discovered Mazinger Infinity and plans to use its fearsome power to annihilate the universe and replace it with one of his own making.  Kabuto Koji uses the original Mazinger Z (hidden from the public for years) and the cyborg LISA (who appeared at the Infinity’s discovery) to prevent Dr. Hell’s plans and save the universe.

    The Mazinger Infinity packed the power to erase the universe and replace it with a new one of the operator’s choice. Talk about feature creep!

    The animation in the movie was great.  The mechanical designs from the early 70s were altered only slightly to add a more detailed look to them.  The effect was great to see on the big screen.  The story was an altered form of a Mazinger manga from recent years.  The script was careful to pack references and brief scenes of all characters and machines from the original TV series that fans remember.  The writers aimed at entertaining audiences more than scoring points with the progressive set.  The result was a fun, action-packed movie with nothing to break the audience’s immersion.

    I was disappointed to see the Great Mazinger and its pilot downplayed in the movie.  I realize a movie has to focus pretty tightly and Mazinger Z has proved more popular than Great Mazinger over the years.  Still, I remember how the Great Mazinger made its appearance in the final episode of Mazinger Z and showed itself to be a great step above Koji’s mech in terms of power and ability.

    If Mazinger Z: Infinity rolls into a theater in your town you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see it yourself.

    Tags: , ,

  • I had the opportunity to read Blame! by Tsutomu Nihei.  Blame! is a science-fiction manga that was first put out in Japan by Kodansha Comics and in English by Tokyopop.  The Master Edition is now available from Vertical Comics in 6 large books.  One note worth making, a more accurate translation of the title would be “Blam!” – a reference to the sound made by the hero’s main weapon.  It seems the title was misunderstood, rendered as Blame! and then the title stuck.

    Blame! is a far future science-fiction story about Killy’s quest to restore order to society.  A great catastrophe occurred in the distant past when humanity enjoyed a level of technology far beyond what we know today.  The results included the majority of humans dying, the Internet of the future (far more advanced then the one we know) becoming inaccessible, the system designed to regulate Internet access going haywire and the system of automatic machines that built and maintained cities and/or space stations also going haywire.  A class of robots called Builders started building out of control and the result is the Megastructure – a truly immense structure that fills up a large portion of our solar system and consists of strata that are many stories high and separated by an almost impenetrable dense substance.  Each strata of the Megastructure holds a seemingly endless city made of jumbled buildings and similar structures.  There are no animals or plant life to be seen except for very few pockets where circumstances are shifted for various reasons.

    Cibo

    Cibo joins Killy on his quest and proves to be an invaluable ally.

    The Megastructure’s infrastructure is mostly damaged and the shattered remains of humanity exist in isolated pockets with no knowledge of each other.  A new class of beings called Silicon Life, cybernetic creatures that vaguely resemble humans in appearance, range throughout the Megastructure and hunt humans mercilessly.

    Wandering through this dystopian nightmare is Killy.  Killy is a human with a cyborg body that is on a mission to find any human who still possesses the Net Terminal Genes.  Finding a person with these extremely rare genes would allow authorized access to the Netsphere where the Administration (the Authority in Tokyopop’s translation) exist.  If authorized by humans, the Administration could bring the damaged systems of the Megastructure back in line and restore society.

    Killy, joined by human scientist Cibo, have to wander the endless city structure and contend with murderous Silicon Life, deadly robots of the Safeguard (a haywire security system that became so damaged it tries to kill all humans without Net Terminal Genes and all who try to access the Netsphere), distrustful and desperate human settlements and damaged remnants of the technological past.

    Blame! is sparse in dialogue and character development.  The art takes center stage and the result is a feast of surreal scenes and mind-bending landscapes.  The large, empty spaces reinforce the sense of desolation and loneliness that permeates the story.

    Although Nihei may not have intended it I think Blame! illustrates well the fallacy that many people currently hold about technology curing humanity’s problems.  The highly advances technologies on display in Blame! couldn’t prevent the catastrophe that destroyed human society.  Those technologies couldn’t put society back together again, either.  The author included notes in an art book dedicated to Blame! where he shares the outcome of the story.  Killy’s unshakeable perseverance and determination succeed in the end.  He plants the seed that restores humanity’s control of the Megastructure and in this shows that it is people with good character who will help society – not advances in technology.

    The lack of romance, character development and humor make Blame! lack wide appeal.  These omissions, however, help the manga focus on its main themes and premise.  Only true-blue science-fiction fans will enjoy this story.  I regard it as one of the best additions to my science-fiction shelf.

    Tags:

  • After many years I’ve finally watched the original 43 episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-80).  Since my teenage years I’ve known the show in detail and didn’t feel it was important to sit through the low production values and dull music.  It was so much a part of my younger years that the actual episodes seemed unnecessary.  After watching it I can see that I shouldn’t have put it off so long.  Although it’s not without its flaws the show really is a gem of mecha animation.

    Each episode offers great action and characters with wide appeal.  It is rightly recogized as one of the best television shows from Tomino’s golden age.  It is popular in Japan to this day.  I was surprised to find it airing on Japanese television in the early 2000’s right next to current shows.

    Zaku II

    The Zaku II became an iconic design in Japan. It shows up in unexpected places because it’s so recognizable.

    Mobile Suit Gundam was easier to recognize and understand for general audiences.  Aura Battler Dunbine is an example of a Tomino show that, while great, was harder for many people to get into.  The strong World War II influence helped the show resonate with viewers all over the world.  Many uniforms, action sequences and machines were instantly understood.  Some fans mention western science-fiction influences like the beam sabers borrowing from Star Wars’ light sabers and the Musai cruiser being an inverted Enterprise from Star Trek but these were minor, cosmetic things.  The main aesthetic came from the European theater of World War II.

    The first of the Gundam TV series had the best storyline and pacing.  Tomino put a lot of thought into the One Year War taking place through the 43 episodes.  Major events and players in that war were woven into the episodes seamlessly giving later writers in the Gundam Universe much to work with.  Some of the conflicts like Odessa Day and the battle for A Baoa Qu were too grand for the animation budget they could muster for a television show in 1979.  It’s no surprise that so many side stories and alternate retellings have been made decades later.

    Zakrello

    The Zakrello. Still goofy after all these years.

    Some things about First Gundam are hard to ignore, however.  The awkward mecha designs still look silly even after years of admiration.  Zeon’s Dabude tank, Zakrello mobile armor, Dopp fighter plane, etc.  You may think that Nagano Mamoru contributed some crazy designs to Z Gundam but they were a marked improvement over so many oddballs from Moble Suit Gundam.  The music for the show was quite poor.  I enjoy many 70’s anime sound tracks and the style of the music doesn’t disagree with me but Studio Sunrise’s work on the show’s soundtrack resulted in dull, annoying songs that very few people will listen to today.

    Stories set in the UC Gundam setting in later years would have done well to learn from the first show.  Later entries in the Gundam franchise have sometimes veered into simple-minded anti-war propaganda (Gundam 0080 comes to mind) but the first show didn’t set that tone.  Mobile Suit Gundam had a pragmatic view of war that didn’t glorify it in any way but had room for the heroics of the main characters and admiration for those who would risk their lives to defend their homes.

    One particual issue that has bothered me over the years was later Gundam entries’ desire to write Newtype powers out of Gundam.  Although Newtype powers were a subtle influence through much of the show’s run, the final episodes make it clear that Newtype abilities are a key feature of the UC Gundam setting.

    It’s a shame I waited so long to watch the original episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam.  Although later UC Gundam anime seems to have gotten stuck in the One Year War the first show makes it clear why so many people like that part of the Gundam timeline.

    Tags: ,

  • I just finished Count to Infinity by John C. Wright (Dec. 2017).  This is the final book in the Eschaton Sequence that contains:

    • Count to a Trillion (2012)
    • The Hermetic Millennia (2013)
    • The Judge of Ages (2015)
    • The Architect of Aeons (2015)
    • The Vindication of Man (2016)
    • Count to Infinity (2017)

    These six novels tell the story of Menelaus Montrose who begins life in what’s left of Texas in the near future and lives on (with the help of technology) to the end of the universe.  Montrose earns the enmity of Ximen del Azarchel and their rivalry, as well as their opposing philosophies, become a conflict that has a lasting effect on human and then intergalactic society.

    The scope of the story is truly vast.  Wright does a masterful job of increasing the scale of the story again and again over the course of six books.  One of the themes of the narrative is what principles guide society in the best direction.  As human society goes from post apocalypse to a shining tomorrow – and then colonies throughout space – these principles become increasingly important.  The story then goes beyond humanity to advanced multiracial societies that span galactic clusters to play with the same ideas on a truly large scale.  At each step the story pauses to intelligently speculate on the effects of different philosophies when they gain preeminence.

    An unusual change from most of the science-fiction I’ve read was to limit space travel to light speed.  It gave a different and fascinating view of how interstellar, and then intergalactic, societies would form and operate.

    Similar to his Golden Age trilogy, advanced artificial intelligences become characters in the story.  In some ways they view things differently than humans but are close enough to reason with people.  The conversations that result from these exchanges give the reader much food for thought.

    The Eschaton Sequence is highly recommended for your next venture into science-fiction.  You’re in good hands with author John C. Wright.

    Tags: ,

  • Thundarr the Barbarian was an animated show by Hanna-Barbera that aired on television from 1980 to 1981.  I watched it as a youngster but only vaguely remembered it.  When I heard the OSR community was using it as a roleplaying setting at several conventions I picked up the DVD collection to jog my memory.

    Thundarr the Barbarian

    The opening credits were etched deep in my memory and were immediately familiar.  I rediscovered a great action / adventure show that didn’t deserve to be forgotten.  Thundarr, a barbarian warrior armed with a unique energy sword, rides with a mutant brute and a sorceress through what remains of the United States hundreds of years after a global disaster.  Civilization is in ruins, remnants of advanced technology are found scattered about and magical arts have somehow returned.  Thundarr and his friends travel about looking for people in need of help.  They fight off mutants, monsters and sorcerers as they struggle to protect the isolated and dwindling villages that are all that remain of society.

    Thundarr is clearly modeled after Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian.  Thundarr’s title gives it away but he also mimics Conan’s colorful epithets when surprised and shares the famous hero’s dislike of sorcerers.  Unlike Conan, Thundarr sticks to one favored weapon, his “fabulous Sun Sword”, and remains in his tribe’s furs.  Conan changed his clothes to match the regions he visited and liked a good set of armor when he could get it.  The principal characters of Thundarr the Barbarian always wear the same clothes but this is common in cartoons.  It makes the characters easier to recognize for younger viewers.

    Thundarr rides across the land with his faithful friends Princess Ariel and Ookla the mok.

    Each episode is its own adventure and those adventures are good ones.  The writers never forget their focus on action and don’t waste time with distractions.  Although there’s comic relief peppered though each episode the story quickly gets under way and moves through a tightly-written story that doesn’t let up until the very end.  The episodes seem longer than 25 minutes because so much is happening.

    I appreciated the early 80’s approach to action shows.  They emphasize the story and pack in plenty of action.  Character development is kept to a minimum so we don’t get long scenes revealing anyone’s feelings.  Comic relief is woven deftly into other scenes so we avoid long, drawn out bits that only offer dopey humor.  There is no irony or sarcasm.  The events and setting are played straight so the audience can take things seriously and immerse themselves in the action.

    Thundarr the Barbarian is not without its faults.  Hanna-Barbera was so worried about possible complaints from parents that they were afraid to depict violence.  In a post apocalypse setting where a barbarian often fights for survival it’s appropriate to have some halfway realistic violence.  Guns are replaced by awkward-looking laser wands, combatants kick each other instead of using the weapons in their hands and no one dies in a fight.  The post apocalypse setting is quite interesting but suffers from a lack of world building.  There is no explanation of how magic returned to the world or how some can use it and some can’t.  We see numerous hints about a society of sorcerers but get no information about how it formed, how it operates or how it recruits.  Even the genesis of Thundarr’s team is never mentioned.  There is an over emphasis these days on prequels and origin stories but it would be nice to hear even a passing line about how Thundarr met his companions Ookla and Ariel.

    Because of the shortcomings mentioned above, I feel Thundarr the Barbarian is ripe for a remake.  Even if that remake never comes the show is more than worthy of a few hours of your time.  I got my DVD collection on Amazon.com.

    Tags:

  • I had to take some time away from blogging to help my children with their needs but I’m hoping I can find some time again for a few posts. I’ll make an effort in the months ahead to put up a few things related to the themes of this blog.

    My boys

    My favorite distractions.

  • Z Gundam movie DVD

    The first Z Gundam movie is titled Heirs to the Stars

    In 2005 the 50 episode Z Gundam television series from 1985 was compiled into a movie trilogy titled Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation. I grabbed the DVD set when I saw it on Amazon.com but waited to watch them until my surround sound system was working. It was worth the wait! The movies use dolby 5.1 surround and, together with the full-screen animation, make for an awesome cinematic experience. Read more…

    Tags: ,