Stephen reviews: Robot Carnival (1987)

Robot%2BCarnivalRobot Carnival [ロボット・カーニバル] (1987)

Starring Koji Moritsugu, Yayoi Maki, Kei Tomiyama, Chisa Yokoyama, James R. Bowers

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, Atsuko Fukushima, Hidetoshi Ohmori, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Kouji Morimoto, Mao Lamdo, Takashi Nakamura, Yasoumi Umetsu


I remember watching this film way back in the ’90s when Cartoon Network would air it about once a year, usually back to back with Vampire Hunter D. As such, it was one of my first and most formative anime experiences. Back then I was far more enamored of Vampire Hunter D and its more overt action. Robot Carnival is a much artsier film, and as a kid/teen I wasn’t really able to appreciate its more subtle points.

It’s been so long that I had pretty much completely forgotten everything about it, other than its anthology format. This wasn’t helped any by the fact that it never saw any kind of home video release, so after Cartoon Network stopped airing it, it was effectively gone for good. Thankfully the folks at Discotek Media recently gave it a DVD release after all these years. And it’s probably past time to give them a shout out, as they have put out a great deal of older anime titles that I have fond memories of or just never would have seen otherwise; films like Space Adventure Cobra, Fist of the North Star, just about anything related to Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express, and tons of other titles.

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Stephen reviews: Riding Bean (1989)

ridingbean_1Riding Bean [ライディング・ビーン] (1989)

Starring Hideyuki Tanaka, Naoko Matsui, Mami Koyama, Kei Tomiyama, Megumi Hayashibara, Chieko Honda

Directed by Yasuo Hasegawa


Another relic from my high school days, Riding Bean is about as action packed as you can make a movie without becoming a simple montage of action scenes. It’s short, but full of shootouts and car chases and shootouts during car chases leavened with plenty of lighthearted humor. It’s all about Bean Bandit, the Roadbuster, the best and craziest getaway driver in Chicago with a scar on his face and a jawline to make Jay Leno jealous. He’s a lot like a ’90s anti-hero, and his badassery oozes off the screen. His partner is a sexy gun expert named Rally Vincent, who knowledgeable anime fans might recognize as the main character of Gunsmith Cats, though here she is blonde instead of brunette.

Bean will take on any job as long as he gets paid, and while Rally is more of a good guy, she is still pretty much in it for the money and has no qualms about the illegal nature of their jobs. As with any rebel car chase story, there are plenty of car crashes and incompetent police for Bean to make fools out of. And trust me, these are some flat-out ridiculous car chases that could only have been brought to life in an anime. His car may not be as tricked out as James Bond’s, but has Bond ever had a car that can drive sideways? And of course it has the requisite “driving off an unfinished overpass” scene as well; you can’t have a car chase film without one of those.

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Stephen reviews: Bremen 4: Angels in Hell (1981)

bremen4_1Bremen 4: Angels in Hell [ブレーメン4 地獄の中の天使たち Bremen 4: Jigoku no Naka no Tenshi-tachi] (1981)

Starring Mari Okamoto, Hiroya Ishimura, Kei Tomiyama, Naoko Kyooda, Makio Inue, Chikao Ohtsuka, Kousei Tomita, Nachi Nozawa

Directed by Hiroshi Sasagawa & Osamu Tezuka


That Angels in Hell subtitle makes this sound like the next entry in a long running action series, possibly starring Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually another Osamu Tezuka children’s film made for the 24 Hour TV specials, so expect some early ’80s made-for-TV quality animation. The movie is based on the German fairy tale, The Bremen Town Musicians (or Band of Bremen depending on how you like to translate it). As I am a big fan of folklore adaptations, I got pretty big kick out of this one.

The film clearly exhibits Disney’s influence on Tezuka’s style. There are several scenes in the wilderness that look like they could have come right out of Bambi. Likewise the humor is a more Western style of slapstick that doesn’t carry the same absurdist tone that most comedic anime use. Where it seriously departs from Western animation is in its blunt depiction of warfare. No American TV station would ever allow bullet-riddled corpses in a children’s time slot, which rather misses the point. G.I. Joe can glorify war for children all day long, but a film like Bremen 4 that depicts war as a terrible tragedy would probably cause a nationwide scandal. I, however, think it would make a fine children’s film (because we all know how much children love watching subtitled foreign films).

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Stephen reviews: Arcadia of My Youth (1982)

800621_1Arcadia of My Youth [わが青春のアルカディア Waga Seishun no Arcadia] (1982)
AKA Vengeance of the Space Pirates, My Youth in Arcadia

Starring Makio Inoue, Kei Tomiyama, Reiko Muto, Reiko Tajima, Shuuichi Ikeda, Tarô Ishida, Shuuichiroo Moriyama, Hitoshi Takagi, Takeshi Aono, Yuriko Yamamoto, Yuujiro Ishihara

Directed by Katsumata Tomoharu


Leiji Matsumoto’s most prominent character is certainly the aloof Captain Harlock, so it would be nice to get an origin story for him. Well, that’s exactly what this film does. If you’re old enough, you may have even seen it in the ’80s when it was drastically edited for an English release called Vengeance of the Space Pirate. It’s also notable for having a small role by Yuujiro Ishihara, one of Japan’s most popular actors from the 20th century. During the film’s opening, he plays Phantom F. Harlock I, one of Captain Harlock’s ancient ancestors. Not only is this his only animated film credit, but it was also the final performance of his career, so Japanese cinema buffs may find it interesting on that note.

The film chronicles Harlock’s transition from a ship’s captain in the Earth’s military to his role of wandering space pirate. If you’re curious as to how he got that eye patch, or met some of his more important crew members, this is the movie for you. It does not reveal how he came by his trademark scar, though. That tale has never been told, you’ll just have to come up with your own theories. But you will get to see how Emeraldas came by hers. Or at least one of the ways. Other stories give her a different origin. Leiji Matsumoto is not known for his consistency, and if you’re interested in his works, then you just have to accept that continuity is not the goal here.

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Stephen reviews: Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (1981)

adieugalaxyexpress999_1Adieu Galaxy Express 999 [さよなら銀河鉄道999 -アンドロメダ終着駅- Sayonara Ginga Tetsudo 999: Andromeda Shuchakueki] (1981)
AKA Goodbye Galaxy Railway 999: Andromeda Terminal (more of a literal translation, really)

Starring Masako Ikeda, Masako Nozawa, Kaneta Kimotsuki, Makio Inoue, Reiko Tajima, Kei Tomiyama, Youko Asagami, Toru Emori, Ryoko Kinomiya, Hidekatsu Shibata

Directed by Rintaro


As the title implies, this is the conclusion of the Galaxy Express series. But wait, didn’t I tell you all in last week’s review that this was the second film in a trilogy? Well, yes, but it’s a rather impromptu trilogy since the third film, Galaxy Express 999: Eternal Fantasy, didn’t come out until the late ’90s, so Adieu was intended to be the conclusion. Actually, the original Galaxy Express 999 wasn’t intended to have a sequel either, so all three films in the trilogy were the end of the series. And none of them actually stayed that way. (Ok, ok, so Eternal Fantasy was followed by a TV series spin-off rather than a true sequel. So sue me.)

Of course, making a sequel to a film that doesn’t need one is always tricky business. Not only do you have to unravel the ending that had already been neatly tied up, but you have to then face the twin complaints that the sequel is either too much or not enough like the original. While I enjoyed Adieu quite a bit, hecklers will complain about it from both sides of the field. Probably simultaneously.

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Stephen reviews: Galaxy Express 999 (1979)

galaxyexpressGalaxy Express 999 [銀河鉄道999 Ginga Tetsudo 999] (1979)
AKA Bonjour Galaxy Express 999

Starring Masako Nozawa, Masako Ikeda, Hidekatsu Shibata, Kaneta Kimotsuki, Youko Asagami, Kei Tomiyama, Makio Inoue, Reiko Tajima

Directed by Rintaro


Say, did you know there was anime before 1980? It’s true. It’s also damn near impossible to find American releases of it. That’s why this is my first review from the ’70s (unless you count the Champion Joe compilation film). It’s also the first film of the Galaxy Express trilogy, which I’ll be tackling over the next few weeks.

One of the few things I know about ’70s anime is that the animation quality was generally crap. I’ve seen brief snippets of anime films from the ’50s and ’60s that could stand proud next to Ghibli films, but somewhere along the line it all went to hell. By the ’80s, animation quality had hit bottom. Sadly, Galaxy Express 999 met my expectations for the ’70s. That doesn’t mean this is a bad film. It just means that Galaxy Express is a product of its time.

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