• 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.


    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.

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  • 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…

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  • Important characters from Z Gundam.

    Important characters from Z Gundam.

    Every mecha fan eventually reaches a point where he (or she) contemplates Tomino’s classic sci-fi anime shows. The potent concoctions of drama and tragedy mixed with epic casts of characters and intricate political maneuvers draw so many of us. After the roller coaster ride is finished we’re left wondering what to make of it all. Why did Camille Bidan, after so heroically defending his friends, have to end up as a vegetable at the end of Zeta Gundam? Why did everyone – I mean everyone – have to die in Dunbine and Ideon? This article is one mecha fan’s attempt to explain what Tomino may have been trying to get across to his viewers. Although what follows is the speculation of a fan from the wrong side of the Pacific Ocean I don’t believe that themes in anime are impossible for non-Japanese to understand. I’ll need to discuss some ideas from Japanese culture but what anime fan isn’t also a student of Japanese culture? Read more…

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  • the aura battler Sirbine

    Knights follow Shio as he pilots the Sirbine on his way to attack the Black Knight's fortress

    The Tale of Neo Byston Well (1988) is a 3 episode OAV that takes place 700 years after the events of Aura Battler Dunbine (1983). This time the story takes place entirely in Byston Well as no one has access to the Aura Road that was used so much in the first Dunbine story. I first heard about the Dunbine OAV when I was a teenager and have been waiting many years to see it. My enthusiasm was dampened somewhat when I saw that the subtitles, prepared by a group called Freebird, were truly awful. English wasn’t even their second language. My limited understanding of Japanese helped me make sense of the awkward subtitles well enough to feel like I wasn’t missing much of what was being said. Read more…


  • Captain Harlock

    Now that I’ve finally completed all 113 episodes of Galaxy Express 999 (1978) I can understand creator Leiji Matsumoto’s ideal of heroism. Matsumoto anime has been entertaining audiences for thirty years now and I can understand the appeal. Matsumoto’s stories are full of strong heroes fighting against impossible odds but that’s not the whole of the stories’ appeal. Matsumoto is a person who tries to get to the bottom of the concept of heroism. What motivates a hero? What does a hero give up when he faces evil? Read more…

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  • Galaxy Express 999

    The main characters of Galaxy Express 999

    Galaxy Express 999 ran from September 1978 to April 1981 and comprises 113 episodes. It is based on Leiji Matsumoto’s manga of the same name that ran in Shonen King from January 1977 to November 1981. Many consider Galaxy Express 999 to be Matsumoto’s greatest work (though I prefer Captain Harlock). Read more…

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  • The blog AltJapan has reported on a momentous find for mecha fans. Anime fan Roger Harkavy has discovered a box that belonged to Imai Company that contains artwork from Artmic Studio. The box contained black and white production drawings for Genesis Climber Mospeada and Super Dimensions Cavalry Southern Cross.  He has made the file available to mecha fans everywhere.  AltJapan has the full report. You will certainly want to download the PDF and take a look at the designs that almost made it into Mospeada. I was fascinated by the rare look into the show Southern Cross was originally meant to be.

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