In my series on the history of Streamline Pictures, I mentioned an anime OAV that Carl Macek and I had both liked, Take the X Train, and that we’d tried to license to be a Video Comic release. We found that its rights were so tied up in legal squabbling that its OAV release in Japan was probably illegal; its producers had not secured all the rights to it. There were a couple of other titles that Streamline couldn’t get for one reason or another, such as Cosmo Police Justy that was just too expensive for us. Here is a special column on them.
Take the X Train (X Densha de Ikou), directed by Rintarô. 50 minutes. November 6, 1987.
It was directed by Rintarô, produced by Studio Madhouse for Konami, better known for its video games, and released on November 6, 1987 as a Pony Canyon video. It has an opening-credits line, “This work is dedicated to the jazz great, Duke Ellington”. The title is an obvious nod to Ellington’s classic “Take the ‘A’ Train”.
Toru Nishihara is a bottom-ranking salaryman in the Marketing department of the East Japan Railway System, which is preparing a publicity campaign around a “Retro” theme. For its centerpiece, the company’s director wants to feature the EF 5861 electric passenger locomotive that was used for the Emperor and Empress’ train years ago. Unfortunately, the EF 5861 is now a wreck and due to be scrapped in a few days.
Toru is also a loser in love, with an off-again-on-again relationship with his girlfriend; and the East Japan Railway System has become haunted by a “ghost train”, invisible except for its surrounding destructive electrical aura as it passes. Toru is assigned to discover what it is and get rid of it. As the story develops, there seems to be some kind of psychic connection between Toru and the ghost train; and sinister “men in black” (not actually in black) appear that “disappear” anyone who learns too much about the ghost train. Are they government agents? A criminal gang? Do they control the ghost train, or are they trying to get its secret for themselves?
What might be a serious thriller is shown humorously in a funky ‘70s-‘80s American comic-book pop art style by animation director/character designer Yoshinori Kanemori, with a jazz soundtrack played by Yosuke Yamashita. (Jazz music isn’t so much composed as improvised on the spot.) The lively jazz was reportedly a musical pastiche of/tribute to Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train”. When we found out that Konami had never secured all of the rights, I wondered if it had ever paid for the rights to a blatant (to musicologists) parody of Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” throughout the audio track? Supposedly the whole video was experimental and improvised (though you can hardly “improvise” an animated feature). Rintarô was/is a jazz fan and co-writer of Take the X Train.
Cosmo Police Justy, directed by Motosuke Takahashi. 44 minutes. July 20, 1985.
Cosmo Police Justy was one of the first OAVs. It was an American fan favorite as soon as bootleg videos came to America. (The attractive Cosmo Police uniform was popular, as well as the s-f plot.) At the C/FO-L.A. it was requested over and over for two or three years, and other anime clubs and chapters reported the same thing. When I was asked by Streamline Pictures, well before I joined the company, to recommend anime fan favorites to license, Cosmo Police Justy was one of the first titles that I named. Presumably other American anime specialty also knew this and tried to get Cosmo Police Justy. Unlike Take the X Train, it was produced by Studio Pierrot; a professional anime producer that was easy to contact and would have gotten all its licenses. But Carl Macek reported that the licensing fee for Cosmo Police Justy was much too high for Streamline Pictures. In fact, it was so exaggeratedly and ridiculously high that Carl felt that it was Pierrot’s way of saying that it wasn’t available for the American market. And I’m not aware that it’s ever been released in America by anyone else.
Justy Kaizard is the top esper agent in the Galaxy Patrol System’s Cosmo Police, which specializes in fighting and capturing or killing powerful and invariably arrogant esper criminals. As Cosmo Police Justy opens, he is in a psychic battle to the death with Magnamam Vega, while Vega’s five-year-old daughter Astaris looks on. When Vega is finally killed, the frightened Astaris grows to young womanhood and attacks Justy. She is more powerful than Vega was, but completely untrained. Justy is wounded but wins, while Astaris retreats into complete amnesia. The Cosmo Police, unsure what to do with her, accept Justy’s offer to take Astaris into his home and raise her as a younger sister and future Cosmo Police officer. Justy and Astaris become a family, with Justy’s fellow officer and senpai/“older sister” Jelna Flarestar as a role model. Astaris (often translated as “Astalis” since r and l are identical in Japanese, but the reference to “star” is meant) is physically about 17 but mentally still 5, and considers Justy a beloved older brother.
Justy is such a threat to the galaxy’s esper criminals that they unite to get rid of him. Their unnamed leader boasts that he has a plot that is sure to work. They capture the Sigma 3 space station’s shuttle #6 with almost a hundred passengers, and announce that they’ll trade them for Magnamam Vega’s daughter. Astaris is brought by Justy, as they have figured. They then use their esper powers to reawaken Asteris’ memories of her father’s death, her latent powers, and her hatred of Justy, figuring that Asteris will use her powers against Justy and he will not fight back, both to keep from harming her and to keep the shuttle and its passengers from being harmed in the fight.
The conclusion is rather confusing. The shuttle and its passengers rather fade away. Some fans thought that Asteris died. But Justy is supposed to have won, and Asteris returns to being his innocent “kid sister”.
Like the Clouds, Like the Wind (Kumo no yō ni, Kaze no yō ni), directed by Hisayuki Toriumi. 80 minutes. March 21, 1990.
Like the Clouds, Like the Wind was also a Studio Pierrot production. Like Cosmo Police Justy, Studio Pierrot’s price was so ridiculously high that we assumed that it was really meant to be unavailable for America.
It was a TV movie, but it was unusually prestigious for a TV movie. It was an adaptation of the novel Inner Palace Harem Story (Kōkyū Shōsetsu) by Ken’ichi Sakemi, which won the first Japan Fantasy Novel Award in 1989. One of the advertised benefits of the award was that the winning novel would be adapted into a movie. It became a TV movie with theatrical-quality animation, so good that when it appeared, it was thought by many to be a Studio Ghibli production.
In the fictional Empire of Sokan, modeled on 17th century China, the old Emperor dies. As is the custom, his harem (Inner Palace) is to be destroyed so that the new Emperor can have his own harem. The old Emperor’s 550 wives are dismissed to return to their previous homes, except for Empress Kin, the Seihi (#1 wife or chief concubine) who is to remain as the Dowager Empress. Court politics becomes rife; the 17-year-old Crown Prince is not Dowager Empress Kin’s son, and she tries to have him assassinated so that her own 11-year-old son, Heitetsu, will become Emperor.
While this is going on, the Imperial bureaucracy is assembling a new harem for whoever becomes Emperor. Beautiful adolescent girls and young women from throughout the kingdom are chosen to be brought to the capital and trained to become an imperial concubine, from which a new Seihi-apparent will be chosen. The eunuch Mano is sent to the town of Odaken to conduct a search for candidates. The girl Ginga (silver; also the Milky Way), barely an adolescent, decides to apply to become a bride candidate, just to get to eat regularly, wear fancy clothes, and not have to work – she doesn’t have any higher ambitions at the time. She expects to be unlikely to become more than the most minor concubine, but Mano is impressed by her spirit and gambles upon her. On the way to the capital, she meets Konton, a representative of the mercenary company hired to protect the bride candidate wagon train from bandits, and his brother Heisho, the leader of the mercenaries. (It is not clear whether they are actual brothers or best friends; brothers-in-arms.)
At the capital’s huge palace, Ginga is shown where the new Inner Palace is being built, and where all the bride candidates will live while they undergo six months of schooling under the eunuch Eno to become the new Seihi. The young new Emperor is being kept in secrecy by an army of eunuch bureaucrats. Ginga’s new home is an apartment in the palace with three other girls: Seishamin, a haughty aristocrat; Koryuun, a friendly knife dancer; and Kouyou, from Kanan province. Ginga learns that secretly, Koryuun and Kouyou are sisters. All the bride candidates are instructed by elderly Professor Seto Kakuuto and his handsome assistant, Prof. Kikkyou. The examination falls into three broad categories: general information on everything, on the human body (presumably on how to pleasure a man), and on having children successfully. During the six months, Koryuun often disappears from their midst. One night, she is attacked by three assassins, and is saved by Kouyou and Ginga.
At the end of the six months, the bride candidate finalists are given a written examination by Prof. Kakuuto. Meanwhile, in a province far to the south, the mercenaries have been made a part of Sokan’s army. Heisho, their commander, is married to the provincial governor’s daughter and has changed his name to Iryuuda (the characters for “illusion”, “forever”, and “obtain”). But Iryuuda and Konton are bored, and they see that the empire’s government is very unpopular due to high taxation and to bureaucrats who have let the realm grow weak while they spend all their time in court politics. They start a revolution, just as Ginga is chosen as the new Seihi, Empress Gin.
Ginga has become dissatisfied because she still hasn’t met the Emperor. He turns out to be Koryuun, who has been in disguise as a woman to hide from the assassins of Dowager Empress Kin. He is worried over the dissolution of his court, and by the rebellion’s victorious army in the south. Prof. Kakuuto has dismissed his assistant, Kikkyou, after discovering that he was an ally of Empress Kin. Koryuun, Kouyou, and Ginga continue to keep the secret for a short time, but soon Koryuun must abandon his disguise. It is no longer a secret from Kin’s assassins that Koryuun is really the Emperor (whose “real name” is never given), and he must openly take command as the victorious rebels approach the capital. But it is too late to stop the rebel army. The Emperor’s officials abandon him; Dowager Empress Kin commits suicide. Only the harem remains loyal to him, or rather to each other in the Inner Palace.
Iryuuda and Konton have their first argument. Konton feels that leading a rebellion has been exciting and fun, but that becoming the government and having to govern will be boring; so they should return to being mercenaries. Iryuuda is still caught up in the glory of becoming an Emperor. Meanwhile, the rebel army has seized the Palace unopposed and is besieging the Inner Palace, defended by the harem and Mano, led by Empress Gin. Kouyou is killed. Emperor Koryuun goes alone to surrender if Iryuuda will allow the harem to leave, but the harem refuses to surrender (to be raped by the rebel soldiers). Koryuun is locked in the stables as a hostage.
Ginga demands to be taken to Iryuuda. Instead she is taken to Konton. They both feel they have gone too far. Konton lets Ginga smuggle Koryuun a gun so he can escape, but he commits suicide. Konton and Ginga next play at her taking him hostage and demand that the whole harem be allowed to leave safely. Iryuuda sees through the deception, but agrees to it because of his long friendship with Konton. The girls return to their original homes, and Konton goes back to being a mercenary, leaving Iryuuda as the new Emperor.
A postscript says that Iryuuda was Emperor for only three years before being defeated, and Sokan was broken up into independent kingdoms. It was not reunified for two generations, and then by Ginga’s and Koryuun’s grandson.
Besides these and maybe a couple of other anime titles I’m no longer sure about (Coo of the Far Seas may have been one, or Carl may not have wanted it because it was too unexciting – it’s a boy and his pet baby plesiosaur, against touristic shots of the Fiji Islands), there were others that were very affordable, but Carl did not want them because they were incomplete. But to get into that, I should reveal my shameful anime secret first… next week.