Ode to Gatchaman

Gatchaman by Alex Ross

I was recently asked about classic animation, and my favorite old-school anime is Gatchaman, also known as G-Force or Battle of the Planets on U.S. television. It came before Voltron, Transformers, and the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers but influenced them all.

The 1970s “science ninja team” was partly inspired by western superheroes and featured the first “super sentai” group, establishing the archetypes of the fearless leader, annoying kid, big guy techie, spunky girl, and reckless loner. Their costumes, acrobatic maneuvers, and individual vehicles have been copied many times since then.

Gatchaman‘s “god bird Phoenix” was one of the first fictional spacecraft to allow its crew to pilot separately and then come together to transform. Plus, viewers of the bastardized American version may not be aware of the franchise‘s darker themes, including teenagers who have been genetically modified, cross-dressing villains, and a future where humanity faces self-destruction and alien invasion.

I have action figures, DVDs, reference books, and a rare die-cast Phoenix model imported from Japan! A computer-animated movie was in the works, but the studio unfortunately went under after the poor box-office returns of Astro Boy and TMNT. I still hope that Gatchaman will be revived and updated someday! (I’m also a Macross/Robotech fan.)

Thanksgiving 2011

Norman Rockwell's vision of America
Thanksgiving by Norman Rockwell

On Wednesday, 23 November 2011, Janice and I drove down to my parents’ home in Virginia. We passed through heavy rain, but the traffic wasn’t too bad. We stopped for lunch at Boston Market, and my mother had a good dinner waiting for us. We watched Jeopardy and talked about politics, history, and travel.

On Thanksgiving, my brother Peter, his wife Kelly, their two daughters, and his mother-in-law Maureen joined us for the traditional holiday feast. I’ll to spend the weeks before Christmas trying to work off the turkey, potatoes, and desserts.

In response to one of my nieces, I’m thankful to live in a country where there is still freedom and opportunity, despite political squabbles and economic stress, and to be able to spend time with family and good food.

The weather was warm and pleasant, so we got to play badminton and horseshoes with my energetic nieces. The next day, Peter returned to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and we did some yard work, played volleyball in shirtsleeves, and of course, ate some more.

On Saturday, Janice and I visited her grandmother in Pennsylvania. We ate another all-American meal at Saville’s Diner before returning to the road. Even with heavy traffic, a detour, and stopping for dinner at Cracker Barrel, we made better time than in many other years.

Since then, I’ve been catching up on reading (R.I.P. “Pern” author Anne McCaffrey), genre TV (including the end of the fun Batman and the Brave and the Bold, as well as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movie marathons on cable), and role-playing games (updates and reviews to come).

In blackest night…

Kilowog and Hal Jordan
Green Lantern: the Animated Series

On Thursday, 10 November 2011, Janice and I had dinner at the Acropolis restaurant in Needham, Massachusetts. The next evening, we settled in for the usual night of animation and genre television. We enjoyed Cartoon Network’s premiere of Green Lantern: the Animated Series, which combines Bruce Timm’s streamlined style from his superb 1990s shows with computer animation similar to that in Star Wars: Clone Wars.

I thought that it was smart of GL:tAS‘s producers to focus on Hal Jordan’s missions against the murderous Red Lanterns in deep space rather than on his origin story, which was recently covered in the live-action movie and First Flight DVD. The previews of Cartoon Network’s DC Nation were also fun, with a Wallace & Gromit-like short and another of the chibi Teen Titans. The level of violence in GL:tAS was greater than in some superhero shows, but as with Clone Wars, it’s necessary for the military space opera.

Speaking of Clone Wars, I think the darkening tone befits a war that began with idealism and ended with critically weakened democracies, much like World War I. On a related note, famed comic book creator Frank Miller lobbed a rhetorical grenade into debate around the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. I don’t deny that there have been difficulties with latter’s focus and safety, but I also believe that questioning economic fairness is no less patriotic than fighting terrorism. Science fiction author David Brin posted a strong retort, and I wish that both liberals and conservatives alike would strive harder to stay civil.

On a lighter note, I’m still impressed with the gradual world building in ThunderCats and belated insights into the superheroes in Young Justice. Chuck and Fringe have been experimenting with some role swaps this season, and Grimm reminds me not just of the fantasy Fables or Once Upon a Time, but also the late Pushing Daisies.

After raking leaves on Saturday, we ate at the Texas Road House, whose Dallas filet steak I enjoyed. I also liked Masterpiece: Contemporary’s Page Eight, an all-star musing on British national security and bureaucracy (not unlike Homeland). On Sunday, Janice and I attended a performance of works by Bach, Respighi, Haydn, and Brahms by the Rivers Symphony Orchestra at Christ Church in Needham.

Wedding in Utica, N.Y.; Labor Day

Rebecca and Tristan Zimbler
Rebecca and Tristan

Friends, I hope you had a good Labor Day weekend. On Friday, 2 September 2011, Janice and I drove to Upstate New York for the wedding of niece Rebecca A.W. to Tristan M.Z. We met Janice’s immediate family at her middle sister Shelly’s house for a barbecue (sloppy Joe) lunch before checking into the Best Western Gateway Adirondack Inn in Utica.

I gave my nephews David and Joshua more comic books (including Teen Titans, Superman, and Spider-Man) and caught up with nieces Rebecca, Laura, and Amanda. We also watched recent episodes of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Top Shot via Netflix for the Wii.

While Shelly and Melvin hosted a rehearsal dinner, Janice and I went with her parents Marvin and Linda, her youngest sister Melinda, and Melinda’s children Amanda and Josh to get some supplies at Wal-Mart and to Applebee’s for dinner. Janice and I caught the latest strong episode of the revived Thundercats.

On Saturday, Sept. 3, we had breakfast at Denny’s, and Melinda’s husband Gary T.L. joined us. The diner chain was a mainstay in my undergraduate years at SUNY at Binghamton. We then went to a public park to help prepare for the wedding and reception, the same park where Shelly and Melvin were married. While the weather was hot and humid, we were lucky to avoid thundershowers.

The ceremony itself went smoothly, and the bridal party looked spiffy. Becky and Janice’s family was also represented by Janice’s grandmother (“Mammy“), her aunts Betty and Carolyn, and cousins Kristy and Tammy. It’s a pity that several invitees were absent. We enjoyed pasta, including a local dish called “chicken riggies,” and chocolate cupcakes.

After changing to more casual clothes and helping to clear up, we were glad to return to the air-conditioned hotel. The next morning, Janice’s family and the bride and groom met for breakfast at Denny’s before Becky & Tristan began their long drive back to Oklahoma, where they’re both still in school.

Janice and her sisters visited a museum exhibit on wedding dresses, and we ate pot roast and homemade mashed potatoes before driving through heavy rain back to Massachusetts. Since then, I’ve caught up on recorded episodes of the melodramatic Torchwood: Miracle Day, darkly whimsical Doctor Who, stalwart Inspector Lewis on Masterpiece Mystery, and the surprisingly Seinfeldian Looney Toons. Who says there hasn’t been anything to watch this past summer?

Coming soon: My take on the Justice League, fall SFTV, and back to gaming!

Thundercats and other toons

Cartoon Network's new Thundercats
Thundercats, ho!

On Friday, 29 July 2011, I watched the premieres of a few new animated television shows. I especially liked the latest incarnation of Thundercats, which was among the shows previewed at San Diego Comic-Con, on the Cartoon Network.

As with G.I. Joe: Renegades, Transformers: Prime, and the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, intellectual properties from the 1980s are being revived, with more modern production values and writing. Although I’m a bit too old to have childhood nostalgia for the originals of these series, I applaud this trend, mainly because of the rare improvement in quality.

The one-hour premiere of Thundercats was faithful enough to the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, but it has a lot in common with recent animation as well. Our favorite felines inhabit a more populated Third Earth than their predecessors, and their (over-)reliance on agrarian civilization and royal magic in contrast to the technology of their foes is reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

The well-designed city of Thundera, varied character archetypes, and new conflict among the Thundercats also reminded me favorably of Avatar: the Last Airbender, which will soon be getting a sequel of its own in Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra (also previewed at Comic-Con). I liked how Lion-o’s father the king isn’t infallible, not all reptile folk are evil, and even that sidekick Snarf can’t talk.

Thundercats is worth watching for fans of fantasy and related role-playing games, and I’ll definitely be adding Thundercats to my summer TV viewing schedule! We’ll see whether the Kung-Fu Panda series can keep the eastern-flavored martial arts action going and if it’s faithful to the popular Dreamworks movies, which I liked more than the Shrek franchise (the Puss in Boots spin-off does look amusing).

I wish I could say that the other cartoons were as promising as the fantasy Thundercats, Legend of Korra, or Kung-Fu Panda. It was nice to hear Heroes‘ Adrian Pasdar and Milo Ventimiglia as a smarmy Tony Stark/Iron Man and a youthful Logan/Wolverine in Marvel’s first anime-style series on G4.

As I told Steve M.R., I thought both characters were a good fit for Japanese adventures, with Iron Man‘s technocratic interests and the classic storyline in which Wolverine follows lost love Mariko to Japan. However, I found myself already missing the energy of the computer-animated Iron Man: Armored Adventures and the cleaner lines of X-Men: Evolution, not to mention MTV’s Spider-Man and the fun Spectacular Spider-Man.

I’ll keep watching for a little while in the hope that the latest Iron Man and Wolverine cartoons approach the level of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (not to be confused with the kid-oriented Super Hero Squad). Marvel also has Blade, X-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man (whose print equivalent has replaced Peter Parker in the tights), and Hulk and the Agents of SMASH shows in the works. The direct-to-video Thor: Tales of Asgard was apparently successful enough for a sequel: Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers.

On the DC side of Comic-Con and genre TV news, I’m still looking forward to the return of Young Justice, the premiere of Bruce Timm’s Green Lantern: the Animated Series, and the next inevitable Batman series. I’ve already mentioned the Batman: Year One and Dark Knight Returns releases, and more adaptations are planned, including Justice League: Doom, Superman vs. the Elite, and Batman: the Killing Joke.

Janice and I have been enjoying the Seinfeld-inspired Looney Toons Show, and I hope to catch the dieselpunk War of the Worlds: Goliath, which features the cast of Highlander: the Series, whenever it’s released in the U.S. (thanks to Heavy Metal magazine for the previews).

Coming soon: Toys and games at Comic-Con, Cowboys & Aliens review, and more food and travel!