Since the new big-budget Hollywood Power Rangers movie opens in theaters this Friday (March 24), I thought it would be a good time to celebrate the long-running TV franchise on which it’s based, especially since the 2015 and 2016 seasons, “Dino Charge” and “Dino Super Charge,” were among the best in the series yet. The first Power Rangers series, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” premiered on local TV stations in the U.S. on August 28, 1993 and the franchise has continued with new seasons every year since. The most recent season, “Power Rangers Ninja Steel,” premiered on Nickelodeon on January 22 of this year and is currently up to episode #8.
In reading and hearing about all the fuss in recent weeks over the game Pokémon Go that is bringing players outside into the real world where they get to interact with other people and explore territory in their own neighborhoods, I was somewhat dismayed that there was virtually no mention of the Pokémon animated TV show, which is now in its 19th season and still airs new episodes once a week on the Cartoon Network. I should know because I watch the show every week and still consider it one of the finest animated series for children ever made. I was first introduced to the show in 1999, not long after it began airing on a local broadcast station and appearing in VHS volumes on video store shelves. I was doing freelance reviewing for a website designed as a consumer guide for children’s videos and since I was the resident anime expert among the site’s stable of reviewers, I was assigned the new anime shows then popping up, including the new phenomenon, Pokémon.
One of the absolute highlights of my trip to Japan was the visit to Toei Kyoto Studio Park, in Kyoto, on Wed. March 30, 2016. This is a combination theme park, museum, and studio run by the Toei Company, one of the leading film, TV and animation studios in Japan. Since 1950, Toei has been turning out a steady array of Japanese pop culture staples, including samurai and yakuza movies, martial arts films, superhero TV shows, animated sci-fi and all sorts of other time-honored Japanese genres. The Toei Kyoto Studio Park offers a samurai village backlot that visitors can explore to their heart’s desire, as well as a visitors center filled with galleries devoted to Toei’s 60-year animation output, live-action tokusatsu and sentai TV series, Japanese film history in general, and the singer Hibari Misora. The backlot is in active use as a set for Toei TV shows, plenty of which I’ve seen, and I will share images from shows that were filmed there. It was an immersion in Japanese pop culture history like I’ve never experienced anywhere else.
In my last Japan Journal (Part 4, April 28, 2016), I concentrated on the Suginami Animation Museum in Ogikubo, Tokyo and said I would save the other animation museums for another entry. Here I’m going to recount my trips to the Gundam Front Museum in Odaiba, Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, and the Pokémon Center and J-World Tokyo in Sunshine City in the Ikebukuro section of Tokyo, more proof of Tokyo’s status as anime heaven.
The Gundam Front Museum doesn’t have as many different exhibits and attractions as the Suginami Museum, but what it does have is pretty spectacular, starting with the giant model of the original Mobile Suit Gundam outside the shopping center where the museum is located.
While I was in Japan, I visited three museums in Tokyo devoted to animation as well as various stores that catered to anime fans. When I was in Kyoto, I visited the Toei Studio’s theme park, Toei Kyoto Studio Park, which had an animation gallery devoted to the output of Toei Animation. The three museums in Tokyo were the Ghibli Museum, located in Mitaka and devoted to Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli; the Gundam Front Museum in Odaiba devoted to the Mobile Suit Gundam anime franchise; and the Suginami Animation Museum in Ogikubo, which offered a full panoply of anime history, covering Japanese animation from the early 20th century on. Of these, the most rewarding was the Suginami Animation Museum in Ogikubo, Tokyo, which took up a whole afternoon and offered enough interesting material to justify its own blog entry.
This past Monday marked the beginning of the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese Zodiac, so I thought it a good time to do a short survey of some notable film and TV adventures of the legendary Chinese trickster, Sun Wukong, aka the Monkey King, a leading character in “Journey to the West,” a classic 16th century Chinese text about the trip to India by a Chinese monk to obtain Buddhist scriptures to bring back to China. Based on a real monk, the story, attributed to Wu Cheng’en, adds mythical characters and supernatural elements to the mix, so we have a monkey with magical powers who is assigned to guard the monk and protect him from assorted demons and monsters on his trip. The story has been told in animated and live-action adventures in films and TV shows from China, Hong Kong, Japan and other nations. There have been modern-day versions and science fiction versions. The best known version in the west is probably the Japanese animated series, “Dragon Ball,” about Goku, a monkey-tailed boy from another planet who is raised by a Chinese martial artist and becomes Earth’s champion.
Back in 2010, I participated in DVD Talk’s December Holiday Challenge, which propelled me to go through my collection and dig out Christmas-themed movies and TV episodes from all sorts of places. I was especially curious to locate Christmas-themed anime episodes and found quite a few. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
What’s been particularly gratifying about this challenge for me is the chance it gives me to go through my anime collection and find Christmas-themed films and TV episodes. I’ve screened 17 so far, from TOKYO GODFATHERS and Pokémon to episodes of “Little Women” and “The Trapp Family Singers.” The oldest so far is from 1981 and the newest is from 2003. The funniest is the “Urusei Yatsura” episode, “The House of Mendou – Summer X’mas,” where Ataru, Lum and the entire cast are motivated to climb this giant Christmas tree in Mendou’s massive mansion by specific rewards waiting at the top. The most unusual was “Mahoromatic Automatic Maiden,” which is about a high-tech female combat android who’s retired from active duty and serves as a maid to an orphaned high school boy, much to the jealous ire of his friends at school. (Kind of like Ataru and Lum in “Urusei Yatsura,” only the combat android is much nicer.)
The biggest challenge was watching the “Trapp Family” episodes in Japanese with no subtitles. I only figured out they had Christmas in them from pictures on the VHS case. They sing a number of familiar Christmas carols in Japanese, though. That was nice.