Tag Archives: mecha

The Trip Part 9: Yatta! Yatterman!

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Now that I was in Japan, I would regret it if I didn’t take in some form of anime-themed entertainment that would take months to be released in Canada. Theo and Tarra invited Sara and I to the “Yatterman” movie, which had just come out the week before. It fit the bill perfectly. “Yatterman” was based off of the 1970s anime of the same name. It’s about  two mechanics, Gan-chan and his girlfriend, Ai-chan. They travel the world on a robot dog called the Yatterwan to recover the fantastic Dokuro stone from the clutches of the evil Doronbo gang. The gang consists of Tonzura, a pig-headed muscle-man, Boyakky, the lecherous evil genius, and the bossy Doronjo, who under all the bondage gear just wants to find a good man and settle down. Despite being in all Japanese, the movie was fun, campy and colorful. It made fun of the fact that it was based on a cartoon by showing how ridiculous all of the formulaic transformations would be if they were in real life. I won’t give away any spoilers, but it also teaches everyone about the evils of tea-bagging.

In addition to the lovely film, we were also treated to the little differences in Japanese theater-going. Every ticket was assigned a specific seat. There were detailed maps on the screen showing the way to the exits, which made the theater feel a bit like an airline flight. We saw previews for two American films, “Bolt” and “Marley”. I had only seen both films from their trailers, and the differences were striking. While the American previews played up the snarky humor of both films, the Japanese trailers focused more on the emotional parts of the films and, to my surprise, made me want to see them more. Are Western entertainment companies trying to hide the sad parts from the audience, or do Japanese audiences need to see more of a film before they make the decision to see it?

While we’re on the subject of Japanese entertainment, Sara and I had quite a bit of time to check out Japanese television. There is anime, although it’s not running constantly. If there is an anime cable channel, we weren’t getting it in the apartment. There was a documentary on NASA to commemorate Japan’s contribution to the International Space Station. It was interesting because they would show the stock footage, the narration, and the re-enactments (with Western actors, so this was a well-budgeted production) and then they would cut back to the studio with a couple of stalwart experts demonstrating the distance from the Earth to the Moon to a panel of celebrities. Occasionally, there would be an insert to the reactions of the celebrities to what they were seeing. For example, the actresses teared up on witnessing the funeral of the Apollo 1 astronauts. It turns out that Japanese television shows do this on a regular basis. They would show something, and have a panel of celebrities comment on it. In addition to the space program documentary, there was also a show where people would eat their dinner in a room full of puppies or pot-bellied pigs and the panel would watch what would happen. It seems almost crass to inject the opinions of celebrities into things like the space program, but do we sell ourselves short by keeping the idea of information separate from the guilty pleasures of VH1? We decry that Ashton Kutcher is getting more twitter followers than CNN, but instead of setting these two forces against each other, perhaps we should be getting them to work together.

Concerning Japanese game shows, there are many, and they are wackier than ever. My favorite of these was a show where these two guys dressed like Prince Valiant went to peoples houses offering them money if they could win a game of hide and seek.  The Prince Valiant guys would get clues on the contestants’ whereabouts via traps set near the hiding places. We watched a family win 1 million Yen (around $10,000) by hiding themselves in various places in their own house. The small daughter won by hiding in the bottom drawer of a china cabinet. The 100 million yen (million dollar) contest was much tougher. About 20 contestants hid in an electronics store, and when they were caught they would get mud, paint, and other substances thrown on them. One guy had tarantulas thrown on him, so subsequent prisoners would enter the losers circle saying stuff like, “Why is everyone stuck in the corner-OH GOD NO GET AWAY!” Suffice to say, nobody won the grand prize.

Seeing those people humiliated on national television reminded my why US shows often miss the point of Japanese game shows. They spend so much time trying to bare the souls of the contestants or checking the instant replay to realize that such shows are not about rewarding skill or knowledge, they are about hilariously punishing ignorance!

The Trip Part 5: Corregidor Island

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It was like seeing the set of a big budget movie, only it really happened. Corregidor was a 90 minute ferry ride from the docks in Manila. Along the way we could see a myriad of tiny fishing boats bobbing up and down in the waves. From there, we loaded into open-air tour buses that reinforced the Universal Studio Tour feel. However, as we passed the distance numbers on the road and the dilapidated pill boxes in the trees, everything became just a little more real. None of this was for show, everything had a purpose of some kind. This was where the fate of the world was decided long ago.

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In British Columbia, there are no great battlefields. Aside from the paranoia of the Japanese internment camps, the bases for training soldiers, and perhaps the odd submarine, war was a stranger to my part of the world. All the battles for Canada as a nation were fought on the east coast.  BC’s border disputes were decided in the halls of government rather than through the barrel of a gun. Corregidor is unique among WWII battle zones. While London, Berlin, Pearl Harbor and Tokyo were all rebuilt for the sake of the people living there, Corregidor was home to no one save the birds and monkeys. Its guns were rendered obsolete by the events of the war.  In addition to the museums and monuments, the ruins of the base that once defended Manila bay serve as a reminder to those who died in the war.

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There something about all of those ruined structures that can’t be captured with photographs. A step in either direction reveals never-ending caverns of lonely building guts. It reminded me of the last scene in “Slaughterhouse Five” after the fire-bombing of Dresden. There really is such a silence after a massacre. It’s not the kind hear, though. At once you think about the people who made those buildings their home and the mechanical savagery by which they were destroyed. The bullet holes conjure images of a young soldier leaning on a machine gun trigger until his box of ammo was empty, yet the look on his face is the same as if he were working an industrial press.  The craters and pock-marked concrete were only a inkling of the violence that took place here.

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As the tour went on, we learned about how the Americans and Filipinos had defended the island until their ammunition and water had run out. We walked through Malinta Tunnel, where they had lived while the Japanese bombers deforested the island. When they surrendered, the Japanese marched all 72,000 of them up the Bataan peninsula, which we could see in the distance. 54,000 made the journey alive. When the Allies retook the island in 1945, the Japanese soldiers, honoring their Bushido code, would commit suicide by jumping off of cliffs overlooking the sea. That was where the Japanese government eventually erected their own shrines to the sons they had lost there.

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In this day and age, we are so removed from the horror of that time. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan almost seem like small-time thuggery by comparison. Americans, Filipinos, Canadians, and Japanese now visit this place as tourists, whereas 60 years ago they would have been the bitterest of enemies. The fact that there has been peace between those countries for so long raises a few questions. How could we reconcile what happened here with what we have today? What changed? Was it our ability to communicate over television and computers? Do our well-heeled post-war lifestyles prevent us from getting the idea to kill each other? And whatever caused this reconciliation, can we put in a bottle or a book or something so we can send it to places like Afghanistan and Iraq where they really need it?

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The Trip Part 3: De La Salle University and the Bamboo Organ

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Our trip wasn’t all lounging by the pool and enjoying fine home cooking. Sara and I are more of the museum type of tourists, and Judy was happy to oblige us. Our first outing took us to the Museo De La Salle. The first floor contained artifacts from the Spanish Colonial period, like furniture, Catholic shrines, and dresses (including one worn by the infamous Imelda Marcos). There was also a statue of the University’s patron Saint, John Baptist De La Salle. The second floor was a sight to behold. Our tour guide led us through the servant passages of an immaculate reproduction of 19th Century Spanish Patrician’s house. There are a few heritage houses in BC, but they are nothing like this. Every room was decorated from floor to ceiling with ornate paintings and intricately carved furniture. There was an entire Catholic chapel adjacent to the living room where services, weddings and funerals were all held for the Patrician’s family. There were segregated drawing rooms for both the men and the women (Simon opined that the boys must have sneaked in to see the girls room at some point, and vice versa). The dining room contained these massive fans that were waved by servants in an adjacent room via strings. The kitchen itself was large enough to employ a small army. The most interesting part of the house was the servant passages we were taking the tour through. Unlike the inner chambers, they seemed to get the most natural light of all the rooms. There were sliding doors going to all the rooms in the house so that the Patrician’s family would never see the servants. We were told that if a servant made eye contact with a member of the Patrician’s family or their guests, they would be sacked immediately.

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After lunch we were driven to Las Piñas City and the Church of St. Joseph, which contained the world’s only Bamboo Organ. The cool stone church was a welcome refuge from the tropical sun. One of the organ players was on hand to give us a demonstration. The sound was a lot warmer than a metal organ, and there was this interesting mechanism where air was pumped through a pool of water which made a sound like a flock of calling birds. In the basement of the church there was a small exhibit detailing the history of the organ and the church. The construction of the organ was a laborious process, involving burying large bamboo stalks in sand for long periods of time so they would not get eaten by insects before the organ was finished. The tour guide told us that the organ was only around 200 years old, but we said that was okay because it was still older than our own country. There was also a chronology of the Church’s history, depicting its trials through earthquakes, plagues, and war. It was apparent that the Philippines’ recent history had been quite tumultuous, as we would soon see in our tour of the old city of Intramuros.

Link Love

Here are some links I found in my travels this week:

Yamato toys is set to unveil a new line of products for the Macross event in Akihabara, including a 1/1 scale Fighter Pilot helmet. I’d be all over that thing if only I could fit my big giant head inside it. Via www.collectiondx.com

Ghostlightning over at “We Remember Love!” contemplates fan service outside the realm of pretty girls viewed at compromising angles.

We all know that the best Batman game was the one released on the NES after the movie came out 1989. An intrepid animator has created an intro for an 8-bit game based on the latest movie, “The Dark Knight”. This one will have you screaming “JUST PRESS START ALREADY!” Found via the Loony Blog.

Here’s an internet classic. The Smurfs are commies!

Some wicked mecha concept art found via espvisuals.

Someone has decided to transform a Japanese WWII Zero fighter into a Battloid.

It’s the Serenity crew in Lego form!

Fool’s Errant muses on the tropes and trends of Space Opera.

Macross Frontier

Macross Frontier © 2007 Big West/Macross F Project, MBS
It took a quarter century, but it looks like we now have a true sequel to Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. Best known to those of us in the states as the first season of Robotech, Macross was a landmark TV series in terms of character arcs, ideas, and gee-whiz animation. Repeating the success of the series has not been so easy. First there was the Direct-to-Video series Macross II, which was relegated to “parallel universe” story status by fans and creators. From what I’ve seen, Macross 7 is essentially a 49-episode music video. The closest we’ve come to sequels have 1994’s Macross Plus and 2002’s prequel Macross Zero, which were stunning, yet all too brief. For a while there it seemed like Robotech was doing a better job of continuing the series by splicing two other anime series into the continuity. But then came Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, and the less said about that again the better. After all that, it seems like we’ve got a series that takes the ideas of the original Macross in new directions while at the same time keeping true to the original. That series is Macross Frontier.

The show takes place 50 years after the original Macross. The human race was almost wiped out in the first series by a war with the Zentraedi, a race of alien giants. After the armistice, the two races decided the most sensible thing to do would be to repopulate the galaxy. The construction of huge colonization fleets began, as well as further military development to keep the fleets safe from rogue Zentraedi fleets, or anything else that might come along. The fleet called “Macross Frontier” is the focus of the show. The protagonist is 17-year-old Alto Saotome, who enrolled in pilot’s school against the wishes of his Kabuki star father. This involves learning to fly in power-suits known as EX-gear, which serve as a basic interface for any aircraft known to man (I want one!). Alto and his stunt flying team end up doing a show for a rock concert starring “Cheryl”, the latest pop idol who’s taking a galaxy-wide tour of all the Macross fleets. During the concert, the fleet is attacked by mysterious bio-mechanical creatures known only as “Vajra”. A few of the space monsters make it back the colony fleet and start wreaking havoc. In true mecha anime fashion, Alto has to commandeer a damaged Valkyrie transformable fighter with his EX-Gear to protect Ranka Lee, the sister of Ozma Lee, the squadron leader trying to protect the fleet. Alto eventually finds out the squadron leader, along with his high school friends are working for SMS, a private military contractor that handles the jobs that the regular military is too hidebound to do effectively. He must make the difficult choice to join SMS and protect himself and his loved ones.

It’s been a while since an anime series has caused me to geek out like this. It was the balance of realism and the fantastic that got me into anime in the first place, which I guess makes me different from the fans who were attracted by the intricate power fantasies of more popular shows like Dragon Ball Z or Pokemon. I’m really glad we get to see how full-grown Zentraedi fit in to this Post-Terran society on the far reaches of space. Private Military Organizations like Blackwater security are active in real war zones today, so transposing the concept to a starship fleet is also interesting. The animation and mecha are bar-none the best I’ve ever seen. The love-triangle storyline of the original is also present, with both Ranka and Cheryl vying for Alto’s attention. Despite his pretty-boy looks, Alto is so typically male that he’ll be able to fuel romantic misunderstandings for the rest of the series.

There are a few nits I’d like to pick though. Some of the characters seem “borrowed” from the original series or other anime series entirely. Alto, Michael and Luca are basically Vermillion Wing from Macross, only prettier. Ozma Lee is essentially the same as Roy Fokker (although fans of the original must have got a great scare when he uttered “I’ve lost too much blood!”. That was how the original character died). I also hope that some of the major mysteries of Macross get solved, such as the fate of the SDF-2 Megaroad, which went missing 6 years after the original series taking most of the original surviving cast with it. Anime Directors have this obsession with ambiguity that prevents them from properly ending series. The term may come to be known as the “J.J. Abrams’ Lost Syndrome”. Despite all of this, Macross Frontier looks like it will be one of best anime mecha series in a long time. It’s too bad that due to some legal SNAFU with the production company it’s not going to be released until Satan skates to work.

Image courtesy of the Macross Compendium
Macross Frontier © 2007 Big West/Macross F Project, MBS