Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Astro Boy Wrestles Spider-man!

For the past few years, the Anime North convention in Toronto, Ontario, Canada has hosted a live wrestling show. This show features up-and-comers, local performers, freelance stars, and costumed wrestlers dressed as characters from anime, comics, video games, and so on. It's a fun exposition that makes the convention unique, and the crowd really gets into it. Characters in previous years have included Vegeta, The Guyver, Superman, Sailor Moon, Tuxedo Mask, Team Rocket, and Power Rangers. Our champion is Elmo!

Anime North 2008 was this past weekend, May 23rd-25th. I was there, and I witnessed something truly remarkable.

I saw Spider-man wrestle against Astro Boy. And Spider-man was the villain!

Well, ok, not really. Astro was really just a wrestler wearing black trunks and red boot covers, and Spider-man was wearing a strange red and black costume. It was just a fun way to get a crowd of anime fans into the match. But the wrestler performing as Astro did run around with his fist out to simulate flying, so props for getting the character down!

I recorded it as best as I could, just using my digital camera's movie feature which couldn't do more than 15 seconds at a time. This is the first time I've ever edited a video like this, but this is so crazy that I just had to put forth the effort. Here it is!

Clearly, this match was not sanctioned by any governing bodies in the world of comics and anime, but it's fun all the same. Hope you enjoyed it.

Continue reading "Astro Boy Wrestles Spider-man!"...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Is it OK to like Anime?

Stupid question, right? Why wouldn't it be OK to like anime? Well, to certain generation of people, liking anime, or anything else from Japan, is unthinkable. Japan was the enemy of many nations during World War II, and so people alive during that time may not want anything to do with Japan.

Yukan Blog brings up an interesting point. Though the article is targeted specifically towards Australians, it really applies to the people of any nation who opposed Japan during the war. One way or another, pretty much the entirety of what we now know as anime and manga were built upon the foundation that was first laid down by Osamu Tezuka. And, as it is quite obvious from both his body of work and his personal writings, Tezuka was totally opposed to war. As times changed, the anime and manga industries produced more product that was violent and contained mature themes, Tezuka adapted his style of storytelling to keep up with those trends. But even though his work changed with the times, he was completely dedicated to creating stories with anti-war themes.

So, in my opinion, not only is it perfectly fine to watch and enjoy anime, despite being created by a country that was once an enemy, but it's a fantastic way to extend the hand of friendship and unite people in a shared love of animation in spite of history, language, and distance. Nothing can be gained by denying ourselves the potential to be entertained by the creations of a country that many of our ancestors used to fight against. Anime has done, and will continue to do, so much to build positive relationships between cultures. We should continue to learn from our pasts so that we do not repeat it, while working together towards the future. That is what Dr. Tezuka would have wanted.

Continue reading "Is it OK to like Anime?"...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


If meticulously cutting and folding pieces of paper to form intricate shapes sounds like a good time to you, you'll probably love this.

This Japanese website has the plans for a papercraft Astro Boy available for free download in .pdf format. I don't really know much about the art of papercraft, but from what I've gathered, the idea is to print out the plans on a sturdy grade of paper, carefully cut out the shapes with a razor, fold them as indicated, and combine them together to create a 3D object, in this case, a figure of Astro Boy. Everything is in Japanese, but the site has a few pictures of an assembled model in different angles so you can see what the final product should look like. Neat stuff!

Seems like a lot of work, but the result is certainly an interesting and really detailed piece of art. If anyone is brave enough to attempt this, send me a picture and maybe I'll feature it here.

Continue reading "Papercraft"...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

12th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Award Winners

Earlier this week, this year's Tezuka Osamu Cultural Award Winners were announced. Taking the grand prize is Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture by Masayuki Ishikawa, a manga about a guy who can talk to bacteria. Yeah, Tezuka probably would have liked that!

The full list of winners is available on ComiPress.

Continue reading "12th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Award Winners"...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Speed Racer Spoiler-Free Review

I'm kind of struggling to find the right words to describe the Speed Racer movie. I guess the easiest thing I could say about it is that I have never been so happy to get a headache. Speed Racer is some of the most fun I've ever had at the movies.

With it's bright colors, rich details, and incredibly fast racing sequences, the live action Speed Racer movie is not a film that everyone is going to enjoy, or even be able to handle. Motion sickness did kick in for me towards the end of the film. But I had a smile on my face nearly the entire time, and when I wasn't smiling I was gasping in amazement at the incredible visuals. It really looks and feels like no other movie that has come before it. Perhaps this new visual style is an acquired taste, as it has been criticized since the first images were revealed, but I was blown away by it. Speed Racer succeeds in bringing an animated property to life better than anything else, and you simply can't fault a movie for succeeding in being exactly what it wanted to be. The story is structured uniquely as well, with many flashbacks and events not necessarily unfolding linearly.

The cast was pretty much spot on, with everyone looking and acting exactly like their anime counterparts. John Goodman, in particular, was born to play Pops Racer. And Christina Ricci is totally adorable as Trixie. Speed himself is well played by Emile Hirsch as the ultimate do-gooder. And you gotta love Sprittle and Chim-Chim. They were pretty annoying at times, but they were worth a few laughs and kids really liked them. All of these characters really emphasized the family aspect of the movie, and made it more than just a display in special effects. And of course, you've got the original anime bad-ass in Racer X, who is just as cool, if not more so, than he was on the TV show.

Another thing that warrants some attention is the music. The score weaves in the classic soundtrack from the cartoon in both subtle and dramatic fashion over the course of the film. It was exceptionally well done and will fill fans with great memories of the TV series.

This is a movie that really goes all out in being what it is without trying to make sense of adapting the source material into typical Hollywood context. It's clearly set in it's own alternate reality where cars can look and move the way they do and it's not weird at all for the Racer family to name their son "Speed" and have a pet chimpanzee. It just got everything right without either taking itself too seriously or mocking the original show. You either get it or you don't. Speed Racer fans will love it. Speed Racer is much better as a Speed Racer movie than, say, a movie like Transformers is about Transformers. In my opinion, most of the negative press surrounding Speed Racer centers more around critics attempting to write witty headlines like "Speed Racer Crashes" or "Speed Racer Runs Out of Gas" than actually giving the film a chance. Those who do give it a chance will likely find a movie with a lot of heart, warm nostalgic feelings, amazing visuals, and most of all, tons of fun. I have a lot of pity for anyone who doesn't.

So, yeah, Speed Racer is a wild ride, and the rapid paced, crazy camera angles a did give me a headache. But it was the best headache I ever had. Watching this movie was an absolute blast.

Go see Speed Racer!

Continue reading "Speed Racer Spoiler-Free Review"...

Friday, May 9, 2008

Speed Racer is here!

The wait is over! The first major Hollywood adaptation of a classic anime has now been released to North American theaters. Speed Racer is here, and with its release comes a wave of coverage and interest in all things anime, including Astro Boy and other series released in the 60's.

Here are a few articles that have been popping up around the Internet.

'60s Japanese cartoons led to anime, new 'Speed Racer' film
- This article explores the origins of anime internationally and lists of a few of the more important and successful Japanese animated imports of the time.

SOFT POWER, HARD TRUTHS / America in Speed's rear-view mirror
- An interesting look at how Speed Racer was originally shaped by American culture.

Nostalgia for 'Racer' more than kid stuff - A really beautiful article about how Speed Racer was a deeper and more meaningful cartoon than others of its era.

Introducing anime - The filmmakers talk about their introduction to Speed Racer and anime.

Fast and furious - A fairly detailed article of what the movie is all about.

Speed Racer looks like no other movie that's ever been made. This could be the dawning of a brand new visual genre of film. Make sure you see it and judge for yourself. Expect a review on the movie right here very soon!

Continue reading "Speed Racer is here!"...

More Atoms Baseball

Check out this artwork of Astro Boy all decked out and ready to play ball!

Some more images and info from the Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball team's recent appearance in their retro Atoms uniforms can be found on the their Official Webpage (Japanese only).

Continue reading "More Atoms Baseball"...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Yakult Atoms Baseball

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows baseball team was once known as The Atoms, and Astro Boy was their mascot. Although the team changed their name years ago, they recently played a game in retro throwback Atoms uniforms as part of Japan's Golden Week celebration. You can see the Mighty Atom himself represented on this uniform's patch.

Check out the details and more pictures at the Japan Hockey, Baseball, etc. blog.

The Atom's aren't the only Baseball team with an anime character for a mascot. Check out the familiar face on the Saitama Seibu Lions logo!

Can you imagine a Sports team with, say, Spider-man as a mascot? Now that would be cool.

Continue reading "Yakult Atoms Baseball"...

Astro and Pikachu at the Olympic Games

These two anime icons just couldn't let Mario and Sonic have all the fun.

As part of Tokyo's bid to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Astro Boy and Nintendo's famous Pokemon Pikachu have joined forces to promote the TOKYO 2016 movement and encourage youth sports. The above photo depicts TOKYO 2016 president Shintaro Ishihara along with the two spokes-characters at the Tokyo International Anime Fair.

Pretty cool to see anime being used to promote such a big and important undertaking. Read all about how "Japanese Anime Heroes Wield their Superpowers for the Olympic Movement" at the TOKYO 2016 Applicant City website or click the link below to read it here.

Japanese Anime Heroes Wield their Superpowers for the Olympic Movement

Tokyo, 31 March 2008 - World-famous anime stars Astroboy and Pikachu stopped by to visit the promotional booth set up by TOKYO 2016, Japan's Bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, during the Tokyo International Anime Fair, the world’s largest anime exhibition, on 27-30 March.

Held at Tokyo Big Sight, which is the TOKYO 2016-proposed venue for fencing, handball and taekwondo, the Tokyo International Anime Fair welcomed 126,622 visitors and 289 companies during its four-day program.

TOKYO 2016 collaborated with anime companies during the fair to enlist their beloved anime icons in the effort to raise awareness of the Olympic movement and interest in sport among the youth. Astroboy, the superhero android of the popular anime series by the same name, and mice-like lightening-wielding Pikachu of the Pokémon (pocket monster) series, are animated heroes for countless millions of young people throughout the world. They are two of the best-known faces of anime, one of the most widely appreciated Japanese art forms in the world.

TOKYO 2016 decided to harness the power of anime because it is a centrepiece of Japanese youth culture. In turn, the nation’s youth are central to the Bid and its goals of providing a model sports culture for Japanese youth and a new legacy of sport for future generations. The Games in Tokyo would also serve as a springboard to vault the world deeper into the international sport and Olympic movements.

TOKYO 2016 CEO and Chairman Dr Ichiro Kono commented: ‘TOKYO 2016 is honoured to have been able to appear at this festival with the anime stars, who are treasured national icons beloved by youth worldwide. TOKYO 2016 aims to create an environment where the Olympic family and indeed the entire world would experience the excitement and entertainment of the Olympic Games framed by Japan’s distinctive culture. We will continue to engage Japan’s youth role models in an effort to inspire more and more young people, who are at the heart of our Bid, to participate in the international sport and Olympic movements, and help us bring the Games to Japan’.

Continue reading "Astro and Pikachu at the Olympic Games"...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ready for the Robot Revolution

Here's an interesting article from the E-Commerce Times about real-life robotics and how they compare to their science fiction counterparts. As with most articles on this topic, Astro Boy is mentioned as being a key influence behind Japan's more human-esque contributions to the field of robotics. Just goes to show how far-reaching the work of Tezuka has become!

You can read it on the E-Commerce News: Must Read page, or by clicking the link below.

Ready for the Robot Revolution
By Pam Baker
Part of the ECT News Network
05/03/08 4:00 AM PT

Compared with the agile, intelligent robots envisioned in science fiction, today's real-life robots may seem relatively unimpressive. But advances in robotics are indeed being made, and the results don't necessarily manifest themselves in humanoid automatons that can dance and shake hands. Often, the technology finds other practical applications.

Despite some impressive showings in robotics lately, the accolades are slow to come from industry outsiders. We, the general public, watch Honda's Asimo slowly make its way down a few steps, for example, and unfairly compare it to the glib and golden C-3PO of science fiction, and thus blind ourselves to the miracle before us.

But it's not just Asimo that suffers from this prejudice; it's all of them walking, scrambling or rolling on the planet today.

In that misguided and erroneous judgment of all real robots Latest News about robots, there is "Danger, Will Robinson," as the Model B-9 Environmental Control Robot in "Lost in Space" would say. For ignorance and diminished enthusiasm leads to lack of funding, derailed projects, slowed progress, and fewer minds focused on bringing sci-fi technology to life.

Fortunately, the industry has not been deterred. Once the blinders come off, you see robotics at work everywhere.

Don't Miss the Revolution

"If you are looking for robots, you might miss the robotic revolution," Matt Mason, director of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, told TechNewsWorld.

He says a robot is a bunch of technologies all packed together in one human- or animal-sized bundle. But in most cases there is no reason to cram the technologies into such a tight bundle. So even though you don't see it, robotics technologies are having a significant impact already, and that impact is growing.

For example, computer vision technology is being deployed in cameras for improved auto-focus and red eye correction. It's also deployed on the Web to assist in image database searches. Robotics technologies are used in computer games Latest News about computer games, to produce computer generated animation for movies, and even to provide real-time enhancement of televised sporting events.

Serendipitous Design

Where did these robotic enhancements come from? "These are useful by-products we discover along the way," Oussama Khatib, professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, told TechNewsWorld. Khatib heads a research group at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and is part of Honda's Humanoid Robot Project. He is also the father of the famous earlier robots: Romeo and Juliet.

"We are making progress on building a humanoid robot, but we don't need to completely build one before we can apply what we have learned to other disciplines," explained Khatib.

From enhanced medical tools and procedures to energy-saving appliances and smart security Free Trial. Security Software As A Service From Webroot. systems, robotics is pushing advancements overall at a speedier pace.

"There is still a long way to go before we see robots that can perform at a level that Hollywood presents, but things are moving ahead enough that there is value emerging," Tandy Trower, general manager of Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Latest News about Microsoft Robotics Group, told TechNewsWorld.

"Techniques like vision recognition that 10 years ago were black arts are popping up all over the place. What would likely cost you thousands of dollars in the past might even be free today," he added.

Better Living Through Robots

Beyond the invisible but useful robotics that power much of our mundane world, the quest for a perfect robot to aid in an uncertain future is under way in earnest.

In Japan, for example, a think tank is predicting that robots will start to fill the jobs of humans as the population there ages and shrinks. The U.S. is facing a similar population problem, as are a number of other well-developed countries.

"In the U.S. alone, 40 million people are over the age of 65, and over 90 percent of them wish to remain living independently. However, we all know that as we age, our physical and cognitive capabilities tend to decline. Robots could be important way to deal with this by acting as active agents that help make up for any diminished abilities we have," said Trower.

When industry insiders speak of robots filling jobs, they are not referring to the industrial robots we have now that deliver repetitive and automated services. They are referring to robots that can replace humans in far more complex tasks.

"Robots can remind us to take our medication. Robots can carry things for us. Robots can keep us better connected with our families and caregivers. Robots can even entertain us," said Trower. "And the cost of the robots to do this will be far cheaper than human assisted care."

The Robots of Japan

Japan in particular has a reason to rush robot development, which is why we see so many efforts coming from there. "With declines in birth rates, overall the average age is increasing at an unprecedented rate, and it is proceeding most rapidly in Japan," said Trower.

"There is great concern about how to deal with the loss out of the workforce as well as how to care for an ever increasing population of senior citizens. Robots are seen as way to bridge the gap," he explained.

The elderly stand to gain a great deal in quality of life issues. "Intelligent homes can provide support to the elderly, allowing us to lead independent lives much longer than we do now," explained Mason.

That support can range from carrying the groceries and putting them away to cleaning the house, aiding in dressing, providing immediate CPR and summoning medical assistance if needed. The possibilities are endless, making the robotic creations in the movie "I, Robot" a lot less far-fetched.

Humanoid, Insectoid, Robotoid

However, the ultimate design of these synthetic helpers is still a bit up for grabs.

Many have noted that the Japanese tend to design robots that look human while Westerners tend to build robots that look more like insects or animals. What's up with that?

"This may be partly cultural. The Japanese have always considered robots as positive human assistants. Astro Boy has been one of the earliest, most popular characterizations," explained Trower. "Perhaps it also has something to do with Asian culture being more attuned with nature, whereas in Western cultures we have been dominated by the scientific method, which tends to separate the rational from the emotional or social aspects of perception."

Others in the industry think the East vs. West perception of robots is totally off the mark from the start.

"Most of our robots are neither humanoid nor insectoid," laughed Mason. "In fact, they don't look like robots at all. Perhaps we should say they are not even robotoid."

He cites, for example, Boss, the Carnegie Mellon robot that recently won the Urban Challenge that looks like a car. "Probably when we have developed homes with embedded robotic technology, they will still look like homes," he said.

Challenges Ahead

The challenges ahead are difficult, but multi-disciplined teams are chiseling away at them every day.

"The current robots are platforms to study, but they are not yet safe for human interaction," explained Khatib. "We are also making progress in sensing and perceiving the environment, but it is difficult. The environment in industry is structured, but the environment around humans is messy. There is still a ways to go."

Khatib said the major challenges are in integration, decreasing the robot's weight, making a more sensitive skin for better environment perception, and in solving the human safety issue.

"A major stumbling block is to build systems that are safe and soft enough to interact with people, and also cheap enough for people to afford," agreed Mason.

In the end, the perfect robot will become commonplace and as unappreciated as the desktop PC.

"Robots are a natural evolution of PC technology, just enabled to interact and support us in a greater diversity of ways," said Trower. "They will help us live safer and more comfortable lives and will come in many forms, from smarter cars to smarter appliances.

"We may not even think of all of them as robots at all," he said. At least that much will stay the same.

Continue reading "Ready for the Robot Revolution"...

Scientific Romances in the Land of the Rising Sun

Voyages Extraordinaires, a weblog about "Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances and Retro-Futurism, Victoriana and Neo-Victorianism, Voyages Extraordinaires and Imperialist Romances, Gothic Horror, Pulp Fiction, the Golden Ages of Hollywood and of Travel, silent and early films, points suprêmes and real life adventures into places exotic and historic" (quite a mouthful), is dedicating the month of May to Japan-based topics. Of course that covers manga, anime, and the contributions of Osamu Tezuka.

Their first article of the month has some interesting viewpoints on the history of anime and examines some titles that pertain to "Scientific Romances". You can read it on the Voyages Extraordinaires blog or read it here by clicking the link below. Keep your eye on this blog for more.

Scientific Romances in the Land of the Rising Sun

It is spring, the season when Cherry Blossoms are falling from the trees, their petals drifting gently to the ground over which you walk. It is peaceful in this open glade, there in the shadow of the sacred mountain Fuji... All that can be heard are the chirping of birds and the tap of the bamboo water-clock. The scene is like a painting, with the sun's rays shining through the trees inspiring a deep sense of inner peace. Then without warning, a Samurai bursts through the trees. She stops halfway through the meadow, and with a rush of wind, the Cherry Blossoms swirl around you as her pursuer reveals itself: a 20 foot tall steel-plated, smoke-belching automated monster! The Samurai releases an inhuman, otherworldly howl, brandishes her sword, and shoots an incredible blue fireball at the steam-powered beast. The blast is received in full, the robot is critically damaged and, deploying it's sails, takes off to the flying temple fortress you can barely make out above you. The Samurai turns to you, giving you a cold, analytical stare, and with that disappears into the thicket. Welcome to Japan in the 1880s.

While the Western world has been somewhat slow to develop an affection for modern Scientific Romances, the Japanese comic, animation, and video game industries have not. Anime and manga, Japanese animation and comics respectively, have long been fertile ground for telling any and every type of story imaginable. The period of comics and cartoons being considered a children's genre was relatively short in Japan, especially compared to North America where it is still considered "kid's stuff". Following World War II, a creator by the name of Tezuka Osamu broke on the scene, selling over 400,000 copies of his 1947 manga New Treasure Island... An unthinkable number at the time. Tezuka went on to adapt many more works, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and a Metropolis very loosely based on the 1927 film, as well as inventing new characters of his own like Kimba the White Lion and Astroboy.

The influence of Tezuka cannot be overstated. Himself influenced by Walt Disney's animations, Tezuka pioneered many of the archetypal aesthetic sensibilities of anime and manga, including the characteristic oversized eyes. It was also Tezuka who imbued them with mature storytelling and developed themes that appealed to both children and grown-ups. Science fiction stories, action adventures, coming of age tales, high drama and art... Tezuka did it all. One Japanese newspaper summed up his significance by saying,
Foreign visitors to Japan often find it difficult to understand why Japanese people like comics so much. One explanation for the popularity of comics in Japan, however, is that Japan had Tezuka Osamu, whereas other nations did not.
From that background, many excellent Voyages Extraordinaires have been produced, often serving as a unique fusion of Western and Japanese history, fiction, and sensibilities... Almost as unique and interesting as the Edo, Meiji, and Taisho eras themselves. The late 1800s and early 1900s were a time of transition for Japan, with the Edo period forming the last era of the Tokugawa shogunate. It was during this time that many of Japan's most well-known cultural institutions emerged, including Kabuki theater, the tea ceremony and Ukiyo-e art. Following a violent and bloody civil war in 1867/68, the Meiji Restoration saw the return of the Emperor to the throne and radical changes to the country's social, economic, and military structures. Rather than remaining in unequal treaties forced upon them by Commodore Perry in the 1850s, Japan sought to close the gap with the West. Religious freedom came in 1873, the class and feudal systems were slowly broken down, industrialization began, and Japan received it's first European style constitution in 1889. After the death of Emperor Meiji and ascension of Emperor Taisho in 1912, political power shifted from the class of ruling oligarchs to the parliament and democratic parties. The era of Emperor Taisho came to an end in 1926.

Like many Scientific Romance stories on this side of the Pacific, Japanese ones often delve into this real history to create an alternate history, here owing equally to Jules Verne and the samurai. One of the foremost of these stories is Sakura Wars. Taking place during an alternate Taisho era, the earth is just recovering from the first Demon War, a horror which humanity barely won. All is not well however... Demon hordes are on the move again, but this time the world is ready. Japan is the leading manufacturer of steam technology and Kanzaki Heavy Industries is developing it's most advanced military hardware yet. There's the bullet train Gouraigo and the zeppelin Shougeimaru ("Flying Whale"), but the centerpiece is the Oubu: robot battle suits driven by steam and spiritual energy. Unfortunately, the suits require so much power that only a limited number of people in the world can possibly operate them, and all but one just happen to be girls. After gathering together the team, they are christened the Imperial Floral Assault Unit and sent on to combat the evil sweeping over the land of the rising sun.

The appropriately titled Spirit of Wonder: Miss China's Ring is an enjoyable short film consisting of an extended flashback to the time when Earth had a moon rather than a glittering golden ring of space dust. In the 19th century, there was a young Chinese girl who owned an inn on a British island. Above the inn was a financially troubled mad scientist who had invented a device to venture to the moon. The scientist also had an assistant who was trying to court the young inn owner, but with limited success. But the scientist and the assistant hatch a plot to solve both of their problems, which also explains why Earth no longer has a moon! Miss China's story, as well as that of the 1950's-based Scientific Boy's Club, continues in the Spirit of Wonder DVD.

Where Spirit of Wonder exemplifies the Vernian Voyages Extraordinaire heady delight with the cosmos, Otomo Katsuhiro's Steamboy more darkly exemplifies Wellsian dystopia. Like Katsuhiro's previous Cyberpunk film, Akira, Steamboy addresses the problem of exponential technological development against humanity's stunted moral development. The central conflict is within Ray Steam, third in a line of pioneer inventors, over how to use the mysterious and powerful "steam ball"... A magnificent source of unparalleled power that is key to opperating an apocalyptic Steam Tower. On the one side is Ray's grandfather, who envisions a bright age in which science betters the human condition and builds the Steam Tower as a giant amusement park. On the other is Ray's father, who sees science as the road to power and the Steam Tower as an indefeatable weapon, which is demonstrated by an inscrupulous corporation to the highest bidders at the Crystal Palace.

A wonderful fusion of the light and dark pulses of Scientific Romances comes in the form of the Read-or-Die 3-episode direct-to-video series. In R.O.D., a malevolent organization of clones of historical figures are attempting to acquire a lost manuscript of Beethoven's that is instrumental in their plans to reshape humanity. Standing in their way are the superpowered agents of the British Library special forces, lead by the bookish Yomiko Readman, who has telekinetic sway over paper. Though it takes place in the modern day and spans the globe, the villains of the piece are some of the most inventive characters ever to come into the genre. There is Jean Henri Farve, a real-life 19th century French entomologist, who commands a giant grasshopper with brass pipes, and 19th century German glider expert Otto Lilienthal and his steam rocket-glider-bird-thing. Other slandered historical figures include the samurai and electronics pioneer Gennai Hiraga, steam pioneer Stephen Wilcox, legendary Chinese figure Genjo Sanzo, World War I spy Mata Hari, and Buddhist monk Ikkyuu Soujun. In keeping with stereotypes, the agents of the ridiculously serious British Library special forces are Victorian right up to their stiff upper lips.

Another historical Voyages Extraordinaire series, which is also one of the most beloved anime series on both sides of the ocean, has a much more direct debt to Jules Verne. Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is based loosely off of Verne's Captain Nemo books: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island. In it, a mysterious orphan girl Nadia meets a young inventive genius named Jean at the Paris Exposition. Unaware of her past, Nadia carries with her a shimmering cobalt jewel called "Blue Water" which possesses incredible powers, making it and her the target of many nefarious plots. Escaping a trio of jewel thieves, Nadia and Jean eventually find themselves on the famous Nautilus where they are soon embroiled in a war between Captain Nemo and the secret society of Neo-Atlantis. This adventure takes the duo to all seven seas, beneath Antarctica, to an ancient Devonian reef, the Mysterious Island, the ruins of Atlantis, darkest Africa, and even to outer space. Along the way they discover not only the dark origins of humanity and villainous designs on its future, but they also discover themselves.

If Osamu Tezuka was the Walt Disney of the Japanese comic and animation industry, then Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is the entertainment juggernaut that is the Walt Disney Company. Formed in 1985, Ghibli has risen to international acclaim with films like Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies and Spirited Away, and an American distribution deal with Disney. The first of Ghibli's films also demsontrates the lingering love affair of Miyazaki with Victorian Scientific Romances. Castle in the Sky is a Gulliver-inspired story about sky pirates, flying machines and the last rulers of the lost floating city of Laputa. While working amongst the black pits and railway tressles of a Welsh mining city, young Pazu meets the mysterious Sheeta when she literally floats down from the sky. Hot on her trail are a gang of theives and a government conspiracy seeking her crystal necklace, which is the key to finding long lost Laputa. Victorian and Pulp themes continued throughout the work of Ghibli, from films like Porco Rosso and Howl's Moving Castle to the architecture of the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo.

Not content to just borrow literature from Western culture, Japan has it's own heritage to draw from. One of these is the film A Night on the Galactic Railroad, based off of the late Taisho era novel by Miyazawa Kenji. Based to a large degree on his own memories of adolescent adventure and bittersweet experience of coming into adulthood, Miyazawa's novel takes two boys (who in the film are made into anthropomorphised cats) on a steam train ride through the cosmos. Through the rich and deep symbolism the viewer is presented with, Miyazawa relates his views on creativity and imagination, sacrifice, and ultimately, death. This novel inspired Leiji Matsumoto to create his own universe in which a spacefaring steam train ferries a young man to his destiny in the futuristic Sci-Fi Galaxy Express 999.

Character growth and life lessons are of order in another anime series which manages to defy any real attempt to classify it. Escaflowne focuses on Japanese high school student Hitomi Kanzaki, a spiritualist who also suffers from depression, as she is whisked away from Earth to the strange world of Gaea, where both the Earth and the Moon hang in the sky. Here she meets Van Fenel, the last king of a ruined kingdom, and joins him in his fight against the evil empire of Zaibach. Beginning with high school drama on modern day Earth, the story crosses fantasy, romance, and the giant gilded battle suits used by warriors, including Van's suit after which the series is named. There are also other pieces of industrial and mediaeval hardware, such as war chariots and floating fortresses.

Here at Voyages Extraordinaires, we'll examine both the real and the fictional history and romance of Japan... From anime with giant, steam-powered mecha to geisha drifting gently beneath falling sakura petals.
Presented by Cory The Raven

Continue reading "Scientific Romances in the Land of the Rising Sun"...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Expanding Universe of Astro Boy

The Daily Yomuri brings us a great article about how Astro Boy is evolving in the Japanese marketplace with new versions, including the previously reported "Lard Ass-tro Boy" and other interpretations. The upcoming animated movie also gets a brief mention.

Do new versions of classic characters really help? Judging by what they say in this article and others like it, Tezuka Productions doesn't seem to mind. They feel it's a way to keep characters like Astro Boy in the public consciousness. But they also admit that long time fans complain about it. Is it really worth ostracizing the loyal followers?

Judge for yourself! Read "THROUGH OTAKU EYES / The expanding universe of Astro Boy" on The Daily Yomuri Online webpage or click the link below for the locally saved copy.

THROUGH OTAKU EYES / The expanding universe of Astro Boy

Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

"Atom-kun," SoftBank's new cell phone, may prove a bit of a shock for long-time fans of Astro Boy, as the character on it looks nothing like the original artist's Mighty Atom.

Osamu Tezuka's character has been reenvisioned by popular illustrator Lily Franky with a big belly, thick lips and tiny eyes. While Astro Boy is known for having "Juman-bariki" (100,000 horsepower), Atom-kun looks run-down and laid-back.

But Atom-kun has been authorized by Tezuka Production Co. In fact, it was the company that asked Franky to make the new version of Astro Boy. "We are aware Lily is paying his respects to Mr. Tezuka. We asked him to create Astro Boy in his own style," said Yoshihiro Shimizu, the head of the copyright and operation division.

Yawaraka Sensha (fragile tank) creator Rareko has released to the Web Yawaraka Atom, a merging of the Web animator's series with the anime classic. The anime, which can be seen by clicking on atom/, is another example of the characters being restyled in completely new ways. "Sure, we get complaints from old Tezuka fans," Shimizu says.

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Tezuka's death. A decade ago, Shimizu began introducing new products based on Tezuka's creation under what he has dubbed the "avocali system," whose name is an amalgamation of avocado and California Roll.

"For Edo-style sushi to take off internationally, chefs had to incorporate local foods [such as avocado]," Shimizu says. "In the same sense, we felt the best way to disseminate Osamu Tezuka's DNA was to have artists from around the world 'cook' his characters--even if it meant changing their look."

The theory behind this is that it is better for the life of the character to allow popular young designers to make "secondary creations."

Pluto, a manga by Naoki Urasawa based on Tezuka's Astro Boy, is one such outlet.

In a more daring project, Tezuka Production allowed the public to create animations, manga and other fan fiction works, such as those found at Comic Market, by using all of Tezuka's characters at Open Post. On the site, launched by groups including the Association of Japanese Animations, under the direction of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, works were posted and discussed interactively by creators, users and others. The project ran for five months, ending in March.

Shimizu says his firm is ready to work with any particularly talented artists it might find.

Not to be outdone, the global film industry is having its own go at the character, which has a healthy following overseas. Hong Kong's Imagi Animation Studios has a CGI version of Astro Boy slated to hit theaters in 2009, with Freddie Highmore voicing the main character, according to

Thanks to this strategy, which can be compared to the open source system used in the software world, there has been a rise in revenue from Astro Boy licensing in recent years. The large-mindedness of the production company, in which model changes and parodies are welcomed, may open new possibilities in the character business, distinguishing it from the example set by the Walt Disney Co., for example.

But doesn't that lead to the loss of the original Astro Boy's identity? "Shakespeare's Hamlet is ultimately the same no matter how it is presented, isn't it?" Shimizu rebuts.

Continue reading "The Expanding Universe of Astro Boy"...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

iGoogle. Do you?

The previously discussed Osamu Tezuka Theme for iGoogle is available to international users.

Here's my personal iGoogle set up. You can see the a screen in which seemingly random Tezuka characters appear. In this case, Black Jack!

There are also several Tezuka themed gadgets to adorn your personal iGoogle page, including an Astro clock and Kimba calendar. There's an "AstroBoy News" gadget as well, but it's only in Japanese. Take a look at the full list and set up an iGoogle for yourself. It's very easy.

To see the latest updates from AstroBoy World, on your iGoogle, just go to "Add Stuff", then click "Add feed or gadget", and then enter "". Your iGoogle page will then have direct links to the latest AstroBoy World posts.

You can even add the AstroBoy vs One Bad Storm game and more anime related content to customize a fun and convenient site that makes for a great start page for your browser.

Continue reading "iGoogle. Do you?"...