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Anime & Black History Month: A 2nd Look At Characters

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Ready for more characters to talk about?

Hey folks. Welcome back to February Black Anime. Ready for more characters to talk about? Good. Let’s get to it. We’re gonna hit up the world of classic sci-fi. Our first for this entry has been around a long time and is part of a long-time staple of Japanese animation and manga. With characters that have become as iconic as Astro Boy, Captain Harlock, and Mazinger–Z, we have Cyborg 009, a story about 9 people kidnapped from various countries by the Black Ghost Organization and altered with mechanical superpowers to be sold as soldiers for various purposes. However, they escape and rebel against this evil group eventually taking on other adventures over the decades of stories created by Shotaro Ishimori. Originally produced as a film in 1966 film and then a black and white show in 1968 Cyborg 009 has been re-animated in various forms of films and TV shows, stretching from the cel animation era to the digital and currently the CG techniques times on Netflix.

The cyborg group was given various powers of flight, telekinesis, shape-shifting, super speed, and such. Our first #FebruaryBlackAnime character is Cyborg 008, AKA Pyunma who has mechanical lungs to breathe underwater and is later modified to manipulate oceans so that he can stay in immense depths. Pyunma can also make ocean pressures lighter or heavier as he sees fit to either move faster or crush vessels, making him the optimum hydro warrior. He’s had several revisions over the decades in regards to his origin and character. Essentially though, he’s a soldier from Kenya who fought an oppressive government and was taken by Black Ghost. Pyunma’s physical appearance has also been altered over the years. Initial designs were based on how shorts from Disney and MGM and the like had depicted people of color. In time, with the desire to export the animes to overseas markets, it was decided Pyunma should be modeled more realistically after actor Sidney Poitier, and further revisions continued in later works.

The 009 franchise has had haphazard exposure in the U.S. For the 1980 animated film Legend of the Super Galaxy, Toho commissioned an International English dub which was released twice. One was fully intact while the other version was edited down for kids and retitled Defenders of the Vortex. Recent CG films 009 Re: Cyborg and Cyborg 009 Call of Justice have been streamed here. Also, the crossover OAV series Cyborg 009 Vs Devilman was streamed on Netflix. The most popular exposure though came when the 2001 revised Cyborg 009 TV series was broadcast on Cartoon Network. This particular version had been released on SD blu ray by Discotek Media and is currently streaming on Retrocrush TV

Our next FBA character also comes from a series of older stories written by author Haruka Takachiho, an animator who worked at Studio Nue, known for creating ships for Macross and Galaxy Express 999. He wrote two interconnecting novels which would be the basis of his writing career: Great Adventures of the Dirty Pair and Crisis on the Union Planet, featuring an organization called The Crushers. The latter in 1977 introduced readers to a group of intergalactic mercenaries who work for the Crusher Conference organization. This team is one of several who take various jobs including bodyguarding, search-&-retrieval, transport, and just about anything in between. Crusher Joe is the lead character of this novel and as such the anime adaptations are named for him.

The character we focus on here is Joe’s second in charge, Talos, a huge veteran pilot who originally worked with Joe’s father. In addition to a ton of combat experience, Talos has a tremendous secret asset. Years before, he’d fallen in love with Kei, one of the members of the Dirty Pair. When she rejected him, Talos took a suicide mission which caused him 80% percent damage to his body. He’s been rebuilt with great physical strength and Gatling gun hidden inside his left arm. He’s truly a formidable warrior and does everything he can to protect his teammates. Takachiho collaborated with his favorite design artist Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (known to his fans as YAS, of Venus Wars, Giant Gorg, and Arion fame) to come up with Talos’s look. A feature film and two OAVs have been produced to date for Crusher Joe. The film was released once in the U.S. by Jim Terry Productions with 40 out of the 130 minutes missing and a badly done dub. The anime were all later released by AnimEigo on VHS and LD and subsequently re-licensed on DVD and Blu Ray by Discotek Media.

Up next is the feature-length OAV Gall Force: Eternal Story. We see two races at total war: the amphibious-looking Paradoids and the human-looking females known as the Solnoids. The focus is on a group of Solnoids on their ship “The Star Leaf” which is sent from the battlefield to gather with their fleet in a distant solar system to prepare for a major confrontation. However, en route, they experience system failures, separation from the other ships, a Paranoid attack and a stowaway space monster. It’s a pretty emotional journey before all is said and done. Our FBA character here is Pony, the ship’s computer expert who has a serious fear of space. She was designed by popular character creator Kenichi Sonoda (Bubblegum Crisis, Gunsmith Cats). The movie used to be shown on the Sci-Fi Channel’s anime section in the 90s, as it was distributed on VHS and DVD by Central Park Media. However, there’s been no news of a license rescue as of press time.

In 1985, the TV series Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam started, expanding on the U.C. timeline from the original series. One year later, Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (double Zeta) took up the same time slot where Zeta ended, continuing the story. In the late stages of ZZ, we’re introduced to our next February Black Anime character Rakan Dahkaran. An excellent mecha pilot, Rakan is a Zeon who kills a beloved character from the One Year War while a colony is dropped onto Dublin, Ireland. He gets his own squadron and a powerful mobile suit called The Doben Wolf during a rebellion against Neo Zeon leader Haman Kahn. Like the rest of the franchise, these Gundam shows have been released on blu-ray by Right Stuf / Nozomi Entertainment.

When Gundam ZZ ended, another real robot / war mecha show took that same time slot. (It was a popular genre back then.) So we come to Metal Armor Dragonar, a series with many of the same settings of U.C. Gundam minus the Newtypes. Colonies are in space. A new organization called Giganos has formed among them and rebelled against Earth’s government and attacked with two primary weapons: giant mecha called Metal Armors and the use of mass drivers. The latter had been set up to send asteroids of minerals safely to Earth until Giganos reset their coordinates to devastate 75% of the Earth’s surface instead. Desperate, Earth’s military steals Giganos’s latest experimental mechas known as the Dragonars and is transporting them back when Giganos attacks the Arkhado colony looking for the transport to try and get them back.

At the same time, three young men named Kain, Light and our FBA character Tap Oceano are at this colony and encounter a dying man holding 3 diskettes. He sends them toward the Dragonars where they use the discs to activate the mecha and defend themselves, becoming the only ones who can pilot them from now on. Tap is a wrestler from New York attending classes at the colony who works hard to help his friends. He gets to grow up a good bit and pilot a giant robot for 47 episodes without dying. So yeah, I definitely had to make a note of Tap. Unfortunately to this date, Metal Armor Dragonar has not been legally distributed in the U.S.

Our last FBA character for this entry can be found in the grand OAV series Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Based on a series of novels by Yoshiki Tanaka that became incredibly popular among women, the series shows two master strategists, Reinhadt Von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire and Yang Wen-Li of the Free Planets Alliance commanding their massive starfleets against each other. Basically think of the board game Risk in space. It’s one of if not the absolute longest OAV series to date with over 160 episodes and side films directed by Noboro Ishiguro (Macross, Megazone 23). Our focus here is Admiral Sidney Sithole, whose memorable ups and downs as a Free Planets Alliance leader make him worthy of note here and in the recent reboot Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These. Sentai Filmworks has released LotGH in a single massive boxset and is showing some of it on Hidive. Viz Media is releasing the novels in the U.S.

That’s all for now. Next up: 90s fantasy and martial arts. See you then.

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