My wife came across this image celebrating the 30th anniversary of a couple of anime series that hit the airwaves back in 1983. All of the shows listed were fantastic, but it got me thinking, there was more put out in 1983 than just these!
Of course, those were just from one studio and there’s certainly more than one animation studio in Japan. 1983 was in the midst of the heyday of giant robot anime, when science fiction ruled the Japanese animated airwaves and a lot of really smart shows were coming out year after year. This was after the Gundam revolution of 1979, when mecha became realistic tools, not the magical, spirit-infused giant samurai armor of the early to mid-70s, and before it became the wispy-thin, angsty Evangelion-esque nonsense of the 90s. It was a great time to be an anime fan.
Therefore, I wanted to take a moment to revisit 1983 and showcase a couple of great movies and TV series that came out that year.
Armored Trooper Votoms: Story: The original Votoms story focused on Chirico Cuvie, a special forces Armored Trooper pilot and former member of the Red Shoulder Battalion who, at the tail end of a centuries-long war, gets mysteriously transferred to a special unit which is performing espionage on his own side. Now, on the run from the military, seen as a traitor, he seeks the truth behind the whole operation. His focus, a beautiful young woman he was assigned to capture that holds the key to the conspiracy.
Review: Let’s be honest, giant robots are pretty silly when you think about it. Cool, yes, but silly and unrealistic. Why build a huge human form to pilot around when you could be much more efficient and just make a spaceship? If you’re going to do a human formed craft, why make it 50-feet tall? Votoms is at least more realistic, with smaller personal powered armor instead of skyscraper-tall robots. Votoms is more of a hard sci-fi show than most, which has made it quite durable. They’ve been making sequels, spinoffs and side-stories for 30 years now with no real end in sight.
Aura Battler Dunbine: Story: Sho Zama is a biker and a punk who suddenly finds himself in the world of Byston Well, a magical world filled with dragons and fairies and powerful robots called Aura Battlers. When it turns out that Sho has a powerful aura, which makes piloting one of the robots possible, he is drafted into the military forces of Drake Luft who has designs on ruling the world. However, it soon becomes clear that Luft isn’t only after Byston Well and Sho has a decision to make.
Review: Then you can go to the other end of the spectrum. Dunbine takes place in an alternate fantasy universe where fairies and “magic” are real and where their giant robots are not so much technology but biology. Dunbine is unlike a lot of other classic mecha shows in that it is anachronistic, giant robots set in a very medieval setting. The show is a production of Yoshiyuki Tomino, the same one that created and directed Mobile Suit Gundam so you know it’s going to be well done. It also means it’s going to be deadly to a lot of characters and Dunbine has the singular distinction of managing to kill virtually every named character in the series in the final battle. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary with a fun story and a lot of great action, you can’t go wrong with Dunbine. It went on to several sequels as well.
Barefoot Gen: Story: This might seem strange in the middle of a sci-fi giant robot fest, but Barefoot Gen has a solid place in anime history. It is the autobiographical story of Keiji Nakazawa, who was 6 years old when the nuclear bomb fell on Hiroshima and destroyed his town. He wanted the world to know what it was like living through the devastation. A series of his short stories, “Ore wa Mita” and “Hadashi no Gen” were published in manga form and were made into a live-action film in 1975. Mori Masaki then made them into this animated film that focused on the horrors of the bomb and the after-effects on small-town Japanese.
Review: This may have the look of a children’s animated film, but it certainly is not, it was made for adults and is quite graphic. Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus, said of the film, “A vivid and harrowing story that will burn a radioactive crater in your memory that will never let you go.” A highly recommended film, told from the perspective of a man who was actually there.
Crusher Joe: Story: Joe and his small crew take a simple mission, transporting a cryogenically frozen heiress to a medical facility, when something goes terribly wrong, their warp drive fails mysteriously and they are held responsible when their cargo goes missing. Space pirates have done the seemingly impossible and left the Crushers holding the bag. Not one to take such things laying down, especially since his father runs the Crushers, Joe and crew set out to uncover the truth and regain their tarnished reputation.
Review: This originally started as a series of light novels by Haruka Takachiho, one of the founders of the animation studio, Studio Nue, responsible for such anime blockbusters as Space Battleship Yamato, Macross and, also in 1983, Orguss. The series of 10 novels culminated in this theatrical film that tells the tale of the son of the most elite of the Crushers, Crusher Joe. Crushers are intergalactic jack-of-all-trades, they’ll take on any legal job for the right price. One of the most interesting elements to Crusher Joe, this is the first animated appearance of the Dirty Pair. It was just a silly film, shown in a drive-in theater, on-screen for less than a minute, but it was so popular that it sparked multiple series, movies and specials for the disastrous duo. Here’s the opening credits, right past the naked chick with the nipple tubes.
Genesis Climber Mospeada: Story: In the not too distant future, man has developed a new hydrogen-based fuel called HBT which has allowed him to colonize Mars. In 2050, however, the alien Inbit invade the Earth and easily conquer it, wiping out the majority of humanity, leaving pockets of civilization scattered across the globe. Small cells of freedom fighters have gathered to fight a holding action against the Inbit while other refugees have escaped in shuttles to the moon bases. Mars, however, starts to build up the military might to try to retake the Earth and in 2080, sends an expedition to do just that. It fails and a few survivors, along with some freedom fighters on Earth, form a rag-tag fighting force dedicated to first finding out what the Inbit want and to eventually force them off the planet.
Review: Mospeada was turned into the third segment of the American show Robotech but is much better watched as originally made, although of the three, Mospeada is probably the least screwed with. The original intent of Mospeada was to focus on the seven characters heading together to Reflex Point, the main base of the Inbit. Each had their own reasons for going but they banded together for a common cause. It was an intentional reference to Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, a masterpiece which was redone with a western theme in The Magnificent Seven. It’s no wonder then that Mospeada takes a lot of classic western elements and makes them it’s own. If you listen to one of the tracks from the soundtrack, “Sasurai”, it sounds suspiciously similar to the theme music for the western show “Gunsmoke”. In Robotech, the Invid invade Earth to protect the last place in the universe that their food source can be found. The idea that they will evolve to fit in here is purely secondary. In Mospeada however, evolution is the whole point, that’s what “Genesis Climber” means, the Inbit are here to evolve into a higher lifeform. In Robotech, they create genesis pits in order to study human evolution. In Mospeada, the pits are intended to clean up Earth’s polluted environment and by the end of the series, the planet is largely a primeval wonderland, when the Inbit leave, humanity has been left with a pristine world, free from pollution, with animals recreated that had been driven to extinction. It’s a fun show, something to take a look at especially if you’ve only seen it as a part of Robotech.
Super Dimension Century Orguss: Story: In the near future, the world is at war between two factions, fighting over the “space elevator”, a means for quickly transporting people and materials from the surface into space. Whoever controls the space elevator will rule the world and one side decides that it’s better to destroy the elevator than to allow it to fall into enemy hands. They launch an attack with their latest weapon, a Space/Time Oscillation Bomb. When something goes wrong, the bomb fragments reality into five separate universes, sending pilots Kei Katsuragi and Olson D. Verne spiraling into an alternate world. However, Kei and his friend are linked to the transdimensional rift that develops and as five universes fight against each other, Kei and Olson have to find a way to put the fragmented reality back together before everyone dies.
Review: This is still my second favorite anime series of all time, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Immediately following their success with Macross, Tatsunoko rolled out Orguss, a second series in their Super Dimension series. The story is deep and nuanced, it’s not just a simplistic sci-fi adventure, the characters are well developed, the story extremely convoluted, with different events happening in different worlds and the ending is honestly one of the most controversial in anime history, there are still people debating exactly what happened 30 years later. See it. You won’t regret it.
Urusei Yatsura: Only You: Story: It starts with a flashback to a 6-year old Ataru, playing an innocent game of shadow-tag in the park with an unknown girl. Ataru lands on her shadow and it’s revealed that the girl is an alien princess and Ataru’s act is actually a marriage proposal. She promises to return for him someday. Flash forward eleven years and Princess Elle returns to claim her fiance but Ataru has forgotten all about it and besides, he’s with Lum now. However, the second he realizes that Elle is beautiful and rich, all that goes out the window and it’s a madcap battle to keep Ataru from marrying Elle, complete with huge space battles, giant monsters and a surprise reveal at the end.
Review: In the middle of the long-running comedy series Urusei Yatsura (1981-1986), they started doing theatrical movies featuring Ataru, Lum and the gang and this was the first of those films. Released on February 11, 1983, directed by Mamoru Oshii, who would go on to do such films as Patlabor and Ghost in the Shell, this is the movie that Urusei Yatsura creator Rumiko Takahashi says is closest to her original vision for the series. Here’s the opening credits from the movie, with all of the wedding announcements being delivered to a shocked and generally pissed off audience.
There’s so much good anime out there, I just might make this a yearly segment, highlighting the best of 30 years ago.