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2017-12-11

Future Boy Conan LaserDisc Box Set


Future Boy Conan is Hayao Miyazaki's 26-episode series that aired on Japan's NHK network in 1978. It was not a ratings hit, but the series has become a cult classic as Miyazaki's name rose to fame with the movies of Studio Ghibli. It may even be his finest achievement in animation, a perfect distillation of his many talents and personas. Action, adventure and romance crash head on into sober observations of war, decay and destruction. The buoyant, younger Miyazaki meets his cynical, older self that would soon emerge with Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind.

In the West, Conan remains virtually unknown, even among Ghibli fans. In Japan, however, the series has been widely celebrated on all the major home video formats, from VHS to Blu-Ray. Here is one excellent example of this: a glorious LaserDisc box set, featuring all 26 episodes on six discs and a large art book, all packaged in an impressive case design. This looks absolutely spectacular.

These Conan box sets are found on Ebay from time to time, and the price is quite expensive, as you would expect. At this point, it's really a conversation piece for the diehard fans. It certainly will look awesome on your bookshelf next to the other LaserDiscs and vinyl records. But would it actually be played often? Probably not, especially when a vastly superior Blu-Ray release is more easily available (and just as frightfully expensive).

Unfortunately, for English-speaking fans, no commercial release of Future Boy Conan includes English subtitles. It appears there was at least a cursory attempt at exporting the series, hence the "Engrish" title, "Conan, The Boy in Future." I don't have the heart to tell Nippon Animation that nobody actually talks like that. We've always used the direct translation of Mirai Shonen Conan, "Future Boy Conan." I just know that if we ever secured a Western release, this would become a major argument, just as we had a major fight over title "Horus, Prince of the Sun" a few years back.

I have no idea why Nippon Animation (the Japanese animation studio who holds the rights) has never successfully exported this series. Like most matters in the movie business, the answer likely comes down to money. Now that the show's creator is an internationally-famous movie director with two Academy Awards, the price tag has shot through the roof. Hey, this is their chance to cash in on that meal ticket.

Also, it must be said: there is virtually no interest or demand for Future Boy Conan in the States. Anime fans, who are largely teenagers and college students, won't touch anything they consider "old", meaning anything older than they are. They also won't touch Miyazaki or Ghibli, as they consider those too "mainstream". Ghibli fans, likewise, have little to no interest in anything Miyazaki or Takahata created before 1984. Believe me, I've tried. They like to share Totoro fan pictures. Beyond that, it's a struggle to gain any attention. Oh, well.

2017-12-09

Riffs: When Marnie Was There, My Neighbor Totoro, Omohide Poro Poro





Hiromasa Yonebayashi pays tribute to the Studio Ghibli movies in all of his work, and When Marnie Was There is chock full of them. Here is one easy riff for fans: Anna is wearing the same hat as Mei in My Neighbor Totoro. However, I was also reminded of Taeko's hat in Omohide Poro Poro. Maybe that's just me, or maybe it's intentional. You be the judge.

2017-12-07

Download My Ebooks For FREE on Amazon

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes

Pop Life

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews

Good news, everybody! My ebooks are FREE on Amazon from now until Sunday, December 10. Please download a copy of each and leave a reader review.

Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews features 140 classic video game reviews for NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Genesis, NEC Turbografx and Neo-Geo. Do you love retro games? Did you score that awesome Super NES Mini? Here's your guide. You've played the games, now read the book.

Pop Life features essays and stories on movies & television, music & audio, classic & modern video games, and politics & life. Oh, and there are a number of chapters on Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Ghibli and anime. This book is awesome. It's funny and grouchy and feels like a classic rock double album.

Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes is an anthology of stories, reviews and essays on pop culture and life. Read 26 chapters about Studio Ghibli. Read 20 chapters about the greatest video games ever made. Read about vinyl records and cool albums and great movies you shouldn't miss.

Remember, kids: the sooner you download my books, the sooner I'll get off your case and go back to posting Totoro pictures. I think that's a pretty fair bargain, don't you?


2017-12-06

Mary and the Witch's Flower English Dub Trailer



Studio Ponoc and Madman Entertainment have unveiled the first trailer for the English-language release of Mary and the Witch's Flower. As you would expect from an animation studio staffed by Studio Ghibli alumni, the art direction and animation looks wonderful. Colors just pop out of the screen with verve and gusto. Shots are skillfully composed, complex yet still easily understood. There is a great amount of creativity in these scenes. I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie in theaters.

I really enjoy this new dub. The actors are all sporting English accents, which fits the story much better than the typically bland Southern California accents you get most of the time. I am reminded of the brilliant UK-exclusive soundtrack for Arrietty the Borrower, which I greatly preferred to the US Disney version.

To longtime Ghibli fans, this movie looks like a mashup of Miyazaki movies. If you're used to playing the "Ghibli Riffs" game, then you will have a field day with this picture. I spotted a good number in this trailer, which I will detail in a future post. For me, I always enjoy spotting these unique easter eggs, and I'm glad to see the tradition continue into the next generation.

Mary and the Witch's Flower pulled in respectable numbers at Japan's box office, certainly nowhere near the level of Hayao Miyazaki blockbusters, but even the master himself wasn't able to sustain that stratospheric level of success forever. Studio Ponoc and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi should be proud of their accomplishments. He has really progressed as a director. I was one who felt that The Secret World of Arrietty spoke more to his future potential than his actual skills (the movie is entertaining but slight). When Marnie Was There showed great improvement in his filmmaking skills; still not quite to the level of Miyazaki, Takahata, Yoshifumi Kondo or Yoshiyuki Momose, but better than the other lesser known directors. Now he is ready to conquer the world.

If this trailer appears a touch too derivative of Ghibli, it's clearly a gesture of affection as much as a desire to carry the flame forward. Given the enormous costs of producing hand-drawn animation of this quality, all concessions to the mass market must be taken. Ponoc needs Ghibli fans to show up in force, especially in the home country. These folks need a big success so they can continue making movies. We don't want the spirit of Ghibli to truly die out.

Next time, however, I expect to see something truly original, something that breaks in a new direction. Perhaps we will even see another feature director emerge to lighten the burden on Yonebayashi's shoulders? I always thought Katsuya Kondo had great potential in the director's chair. I still cannot understand why Momose was never given a feature film at Ghibli; his Capsule music video trilogy is the best thing Ghibli created in ages. Just imagine if Toshio Suzuki tapped his shoulder to sit on the captain's chair...instead of Goro Miyazaki, the reluctant prince.

Mary and the Witch's Flower opens on January 18, 2018 in the United States. Get your tickets early.

2017-12-01

Riffs: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Omohide Poro Poro


Riffs: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Omohide Poro Poro

Riffs: Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Omohide Poro Poro

Of all the great works in the Hayao Miyazaki-Isao Takahata canon, it is Heidi that stands tallest. At least where the riffs stand. Nearly every one of the 52 episodes from the groundbreaking anime series has been quoted in the directors' later works. For those of you playing the "Ghibli Riff Game", you will never truly become a champion until you've spotted all those Heidi moments.

Here is but one terrific example. This shot from Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) of children running down the aisle of a train passenger car is directly quoting a shot from a later episode of Heidi, one in which the title character, her "Alm-Uncle" and her friends spend a vacation at the ruins of a great castle. Notice how characters wink back at the camera as they skirt on by. That's a very sly shot.

One extra riff tidbit: the Heidi episodes set at the castle (a completely original plot line that was never in the original Johanna Spyri novel) were later riffed in Lupin the 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro, when Lupin and Jigen encounter the ruins of the Cagliostro family castle. And the elderly groundskeeper who speaks to them? He is voiced by the same Japanese actor who voiced the Grandfather in Heidi.

Better learn your Ghibli Riffs, kids.

P.S. I've been holding onto that Heidi screenshot on my computers since 2005, when I bought a Taiwan DVD Heidi box set and watched the whole series. No, there were no English subtitles, which was unfortunate, but I was able to follow pretty easily in my crummy toddler-level Japanese grammar skills. I'm still not any better.

2017-11-30

Toshio Suzuki Discusses New Hayao Miyazaki, Goro Miyazaki Projects

Goro Miyazaki

Japanese movie website Eiga Natalie reported on Wednesday that Studio Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki has discussed details on Hayao Miyazaki's new film project. In the letter, Suzuki describes the movie as a "hand-drawn action-adventure fantasy". He also states that he understood Miyazaki's motivations for returning from his retirement after reading the story outline. He concludes by promising that Studio Ghibli will continue to make movies "until the day it fails."

Suzuki also revealed that Goro Miyazaki, the director of Ronja the Robber's Daughter, is working on a new CG animation project. The details of this project, including possible involvement by Studio Ghibli, were not revealed.

Thanks to Anime News Network for their reporting and translation.

2017-11-29

I Released Three Lousy Books

I Released Three Lousy Books

I'm trying not to go overboard like some desperate teenager in search of a prom date, so I'll keep this to a minimum. I wrote three books called Zen Arcade: Classic Video Game Reviews, Pop Life and Greatest Hits: An Anthology in Four Volumes. All three ebooks are now available on Amazon. The paperback editions are coming, as I'm only waiting for my proof copies to ensure quality.

Zen Arcade is a collection of 140 reviews for video games released on NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, Turbografx-16 and Neo-Geo. It's a great read and an enlightening look at the history of classic games. There are a lot of personal stories in there, and more than a few grouchy wisecracks. It's also wickedly funny. At least I think so. But what do I know? There are no pictures, which ensures that no gamers will ever look at it.

Pop Life is a collection of essays and personal memoirs on popular culture and life. You'll read about movies, music, games and politics. You'll read my praises and rants on Studio Ghibli, Pixar, Metallica, DEVO, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, the War on Terror, and the passings of many people who were dear to me. It's basically a mashup of The Beatles' White Album and The Shining. Again, no pictures. I have no idea what I'm doing.

Greatest Hits is a collection (surprise) of essays on movies, music, games and life. It's an anthology that includes chapters from the previous two books, plus two books that are still unfinished: "Videogame Classics" and "Conversations on Ghibli." Yes, this is the book with 26 Studio Ghibli chapters. Again, no pictures, just text. Who the heck signed off on this? What a rip. No wonder this book only sold five copies. This sucks. I'm going back to Pokemon Go.

Anyway, you can find the links to my books on the right-hand column on the screen. Simply click on the covers and you'll be sent to Amazon. You'll also see other projects that I've worked on over the years, including the Lupin the 3rd box set, Horus, Prince of the Sun, and the Mi Vecino Miyazaki books from Spain. I loved working on all of these. I never made a dime from any of 'em. Whatever. Nobody cares.

(Snark.)

Seriously, though, check out my books. I worked hard on these projects. If I'm lucky, I'll make enough money to afford a Happy Meal. It's good to have goals in life.

Studio Ghibli Names New President, Chairman, Museum Director

Studio Ghibli Names New President, Chairman, Museum Director

Kiyofumi Nakajima, formerly the head of the Ghibli Museum, has been named the new president of Studio Ghibli on Tuesday. Former studio president Koji Hoshino was promoted to chairman. Studio co-founder Toshio Suzuki will continue in his longtime role as producer.

Studio Ghibli's production department was closed in 2013 after studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement from feature films. It was revived earlier this year as Miyazaki announced his return with the production of How Do You Live, which is expected to take three to four years to complete.

Nakajima had previously served as the director of the Ghibli Museum since 2005, when Goro Miyazaki was drafted as the director of the Ghibli feature Gedo Senki (Tales From Earthsea). Hoshino was appointed Ghibli president in 2008.

The new director of the Ghibli Museum and Tokuma Memorial Cultural Foundation for Animation is Kazuki Anzai, who was previously a director of the museum exhibits and planning. She joined Studio Ghibli in 1998 and has been involved with the museum since its founding in 2001.

These new developments indicate a strong commitment to Ghibli in the coming years, as the studio continues production on Miyazaki's latest "final movie". It is uncertain what will happen to the production department after its completion, or what direction the studio will take after Miyazaki is gone.

Much thanks to Anime News Network for the news scoop.

2017-11-28

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Riffs: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro

Here is a Ghibli Riff that I hadn't noticed at first, but now it seems obvious. The scene with the giant radish spirit in the elevator mimics shots and poses from My Neighbor Totoro's classic scene at the bus stop.

I think one of the things I enjoy about Miyazaki's movies is how he fills his canvas with so all these little details, and populates his worlds with minor characters who come and go, yet leave an indelible impression upon our imaginations. This radish character is a throwaway, barely on the screen for a moment and then gone forever. And I'm left wanting more. I'd like to see a whole movie about this character. Wouldn't you? Eh, maybe, maybe not. Whatever.

Every Studio Ghibli movie features at least a handful of riffs that aim back to earlier works. Many have well over a dozen. Spirited Away has shots that wink back to Future Boy Conan, Castle of Cagliostro, My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke (the original 1980 storyboard book), among others. If you can find them all, kudos to you. You should make a contest among your Ghibli loving friends. Let's see just how well you know your Miyazaki.

Artist Spotlight: Spirited Away by Vannah Galaxy

Artist Spotlight: Spirited Away by Vannah Galaxy

Vannah Galaxy is an up-and-coming visual artist who is extremely skilled with pens and paper. Her dreamlike illustrations are imaginative and inspiring. She works with colors and paints, but my favorites are drawn in black-and-white, much like underground comics. Here, we see one of her favorite movies, Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away, rendered in intricate detail, capturing its many wonderfully surrealist characters. On her Instagram page, Vannah describes the creative process behind this piece:

My personal favourite Ghibli movie ♥So this was done almost entirely traditionally, with mostly 0.03 and 0.05 copic pens. I finished my shading last night and scanned it today. After I cleaned up some of the black areas (the ink can be a bit shiny, and it shows when scanned), I added some pale grey shadows for a little more depth. This piece is a little smaller than A3 and I'll definitely be selling prints sometime in the future if anyone's interested :)

2017-11-27

Set The Tape Ranks the Studio Ghibli Movies

Whisper of the Heart

It's time for another "greatest hits" retrospective of the Studio Ghibli movies, and UK movie blog Set The Tape is the latest contender. The first part of their multi-episode saga began last week and will continue in the coming days and weeks.

The writers are working backward, and here's where the rankings stand so far:


  • 23. Tales From Earthsea
  • 22. Porco Rosso
  • 21. Pom Poko
  • 20. My Neighbors the Yamadas
  • 19. Ocean Waves
  • 18. Whisper of the Heart


This is going to be interesting reading. If nothing else, it's gutsy to put fan favorites Porco Rosso and Whisper of the Heart at the bottom of the pile. I'm looking forward to reading the fan comments defending their favorite Ghibli movies. Do people still leave comments on blogs? Whatever.

I do hope the writers will continue to shake things up as they move down their Ghibli rankings. Please don't let this be yet another list that puts My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away on top. That's just lazy. Be a little more creative with your top pick and argue the case. Surprise us.

Follow Set The Tape for future installments on their Ranking Studio Ghibli series.


2017-11-23

Riffs: Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch's Flower

Riffs: Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch's Flower

Riffs: Spirited Away, Mary and the Witch's Flower

It's no secret that Yonebayashi and Studio Ponoc see themselves as the next generation of Studio Ghibli. Many of their artists are alumni from the famed studio, and wish to continue the tradition of high quality, hand-drawn animation into the future. This will be a daunting challenge, as CG has completely overwhelmed everything in its path, but hopefully there will be enough people in the world who prefer the old ways. We will see.

Mary and the Witch's Flower at times feels like a mashup of all your favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, including Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away. Here, in this shot, we see a riff that points back to Miyazaki's 2001 Oscar-winning classic, albeit with a slight change in camera angle. It is here that Yonebayashi makes a fascinating choice: he quotes the Ghibli movies, but not in the slavish blink-and-you'll-miss-it style you see from other films. When Marnie Was There did the very same thing, quoting and riffing on Omohide Poro Poro and Spirited Away but used as a reference point, not simply a challenging bit of obscure trivia for the fans (or, most likely, the creators).

For me, the "Ghibli Riffs" are one of the most fascinating thing about these movies, if for no other reason than the fact that hardly anybody knows these things exist. If I have failed in any aspect with this website project, it's not properly cataloging all these obscure Easter eggs. Oh, well, whatever, nevermind.

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