Arrivederci, Robo! Hunting for Anime on an Italian Holiday

As a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the late ’70s and early ’80s, I was presented with many options for watching Japanese animated and live-action programming. Kids on the playground in elementary school would invariably cross their arms to imitate Ultraman’s specium ray or cross a wristwatch over their chest and yell “transmute!” to become one of the bird-themed heroes from Battle of the Planets. Local kids were also lucky enough to live in a place where Pacific Rim-based commerce brought imported Japanese vinyl dolls and die-cast metal robots to specialty stores. Kids of my generation are likely to reminisce as fondly about Captain Harlock or Derek Wildstar as they would about Batman, G.I. Joe, Spider-Man—or any other American heroes.

This early love of what I would learn to properly regard as Anime (animation) and Tokusatsu (live-action) Japanese entertainment has always fueled my tv/vhs/laserdisc/dvd/blu-ray watching habits. I have amassed a decent collection of home videos, CDs and LPs from my favorite series over the years. What’s more, as a man of the ripe old age of 40, I have a glass display case in my living room that is chock full of Orguss (never came out in the States), Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers), Science Ninja Team Gatchman (Battle of the Planets) and Mach GoGoGo (Speed Racer) memorabilia.

When my wife and I took one of our presciently planned pre-baby trips to Europe (you should really travel before you have a crumbgrinder to chase around, if you can), I made the most interesting Anime finds over in Italy. Some European countries tend to have their own favorite Japanese-imported programming that we never ended up getting in the United States (I’m not counting Hawaii, as they got a LOT of programming that never made it onto the mainland). For instance, in France, contemporaries of my age have a fondness for a Japanese series called UFO Robot Grendizer—which they call Goldorak.

While scouring the once-weekly (Sundays) Porta Portese flea market in Rome, I came across a DVD that I thought would really be wonderful. Helmeted, big-eyed team of space explorers? Check! Big-old mecha I had never seen before? Check! (cover image here: The video was titled “Gli Avventurieri Della Galassia” (The Adventurers of the Galaxy). I couldn’t wait to rip of the cellophane and plunk this find into my laptop after my wife fell asleep from our long day’s wandering. Oh heck, it wasn’t even worth switching over the region code on my MacBook. So bad. Not even Japanese, I later learned. South Korean amalgamation/blatant rip-off of many giant robot animation series of the era. It’s in the public domain here in the States, and it is (unfortunately) hosted on as the English-dubbed “Raiders of Galaxy”. Watch at your own peril.

A few days later, after a lovely train and bus trip through picturesque Tuscany, we ended up at the magical medieval walled city of Siena. A stroll along the cobblestone streets one afternoon led me to a round-shaped newsvendor’s kiosk, well-stocked with newspapers, magazines and DVDs hanging in shrinkwrapped packages on color backing boards stating the titles. I passed over music video titles, movies dubbed in Italian from all over the globe, and….anime! I bought a DVD called “L’Imbattibile Daitarn 3,” (the original Japanese version is called Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3) which turned out to be awesome! It features a central character who’s a bit like a ’70s super spy/cop called Haran Banjo. He’s got two gorgeous sidekicks-in-arms, an Alfred-like butleresque tactician and a goofy kid (who for all intents and purposes is comic relief). The giant robot, Daitarn 3, is a multi-vehicle combiner who fights with chain-connected fans and a solar blast from a circle on his forehead. The baddies are very reminiscent of the armies and Ro-Beasts from Voltron. Campy, but really fun to watch. There was a die-cast Daitarn 3 toy released recently, too rich for my blood, but lovely. Perhaps when I win the Lotto.

Perhaps, in a handful of years, I’ll be able to have my baby girl help me some new European anime hunting. A dad can dream…

My Raggedy Doctor

“A daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away…”

When I was ten I had my mother knit me a long multicolored scarf. I started wearing a trench coat and I took to carrying all sorts of odds and ends in my jacket pockets; a bit of string, magnifying glass, a magnet and some cool looking stones. Why you might ask? Because I wanted to be like my hero The Doctor.

I grew up watching Doctor Who every Sunday on PBS. I can’t really tell you which Doctor it was that I saw first, nor which story. The earliest memory that stands out of watching of watching the good old Doctor is the story “Genesis of the Daleks” at my grandparents. I believe we were visiting for some holiday or another, Christmas perhaps.

While everybody else was busy in the dining room, I sat in the living room, my dinner sitting on a TV tray, watching the good Doctor (the episode was “Genesis of the Daleks”, a rather dark story with parallels to the Nazi party, where nearly everyone who isn’t The Doctor or his companions are killed by the end of the story). I remember my grandmother entering the room and shaking her head over this “science fiction stuff” I was watching. Repeats of Star Trek often got the same reaction. But this was a different kind of science fiction. These were stories that often blended the fantastic with the horrific.

One of the main things that attracted me Dr. Who in the first place was some of its darker horror film influenced episodes, such as; “Pyramids of Mars” with its murderous robot mummies, “Seeds of Doom” featuring a killer plant and an arctic base, and “The Brain of Morbius” which was notably influenced by Frankenstein.

As a kid the monsters where a big draw for me, heck even as an adult they are. The show was (and still is) notorious for its non budget. But that didn’t stop the special effects team from coming up with some very creative monsters. There were diabolical robots (such as the Daleks and the Cybermen), strange monsters (the aquatic Sea Devils and their cousins the Silurans), and even killer mannequins (one of my favorite recurring villains, the alien spawned Autons).

But as great as all the monsters are they wouldn’t nearly so cool without The Doctor. What’s not to love about a guy with two hearts who travels the universe in a blue police box?

Join me next time as I begin counting down my Top 5 favorite Doctor’s from the show’s original run!

Fast Food Fridays

Make Your Fridays Special with Fast Food Fridays

Now I know that it’s nothing for me to say that Friday’s are special. They are special to nearly all of us. But Friday’s give me a special feeling, not only because it’s the start of the weekend, but for reasons that span back three decades to the 80’s. I have so many special memories of the 80’s, that’s the reason I am so glad to have found this site and have spent the past weeks listening to all the old podcasts that the Retroist has put out (I’m down to the last 5 unfortunately). My Friday’s in the 80’s however were extra special and the reasons why are tied in to so many of the things I have rediscovered while exploring this site. When I was growing up my parents didn’t have much money, so our weekly treat was a Fast Food Fridays dinner at the Burger King located inside the local mall.

Each week we would pick up my mom from work and then my parents, my sister and myself would drive straight to the mall for dinner and a couple hours of mall wandering. We had always been a Burger King family, I still can remember the intoxicating smell of the grill and the hot fries, and the feeling of the hard plastic seats backed with that heavy padded vinyl as I slid into the booth. I remember graduating from the small hamburger to the Whopper Jr., and that moment I swore I had reached manhood when I was allowed to have a full sized Whopper of my own. After dinner we all went our separate ways to wander the mall then meet back at the center fountain at a predetermined time.

It was during this time that I would come to experience the things that so many of us remember. Usually I would head to the toy/hobby store to look at airplane models I would spend nearly all my time staring at and wishing over them, trying to calculate how many weeks of allowance I would have to save to afford the one I wanted. It was on one of these walks that I strolled past the Woolworth’s and saw my first Pac Man game cabinet, I can remember standing in line with the two quarters my parents begrudgingly allowed me to take my turn. Pac Man played while inhaling the smells of chain store popcorn and other snack bar fare… is there anything sweeter? It was not long after that time that the mall opened an arcade. From that point on my trips to the hobby store became less frequent. After all when you are given a $5 allowance once every two weeks, and I would most times burn through all of it in the arcade, there was little left over for my plastic models.

I whiled away many a classroom hour in the middle of the week dreaming of Friday night when I could fill my stomach with delicious food, maybe pick up a character glass, and then head off to lose myself in the buzzing glow of the arcade playing Pole Position, Gauntlet, Star Wars (the only game I was ever truly good at) and stare in awe at the new 50 cent games that were surely a sign that technology was nearing Star Trek levels!

Over the years I have always maintained the Friday night tradition of eating out, even today at 41 I still try to have a “fast food” type meal on a Friday. I find it very comforting somehow, even if I can’t replicate completely the old Burger King experience. Now I am even happier though thanks to the all the podcasts I’ve been listening to, and reading the forums and blogs here. They help me remember the things I’d forgotten, and refresh the things I do. I find myself sitting at my desk, listening to the podcasts, and dreaming of the moment I can escape the office on Friday afternoon and revel in that old “Friday feeling” from so long ago. Maybe even have a little taste of Fast Food Fridays. It’s nice to know there are so many others out there with loads more talent than me who can put together a site like this. Happy Friday to all of you!

Retroist Halloween Special II Podcast

Retroist Halloween Special II Podcast

Welcome to the Retroist Halloween Special II Podcast. This is a couple of days early, just in case you wanted to get a jump on the Halloween season or if you wanted to have something to listen to on Halloween morning. Today show is all about Halloween memories! That’s right it is time for the 2nd Annual Retroist Halloween Special. It was a fun show to put together and many of the folks associated with the site joined in to share their Halloween memories. You will hear Christopher Tupa, OffisaPups, VicSage, Douglas McCoy, metagirl and of course, me. Will Halloween be celebrated? You better believe it? Will the room service killer claim another life? Perhaps. Listen in and find out.

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