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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Twelve Mecha Songs That Deserve More Love Part 1

On this Thanksgiving weekend, let us give thanks for everything that we have in life... And pray that no one gets (horrifically) trampled on Black Friday. As a fan of mech anime, and on a relatively silly matter, I am thankful that I was finally able to finally see all the way through Matchless Raijin-Oh. At the same time, I am thankful that I can wash away the stink of Gin-Iro no Olynssis with a multitude of better mech anime. Still, the thing that latter show did best was the music (Raijin-Oh's music was awesome, too). With that in mind, let us end this third (& fairly low-key) Mecha Month with a look at some awesome music from mech anime that you may not have known of, but (if nothing else) featured an OP, ED, IN, or BGM that shouldn't be forgotten with time. Plus, in true fashion for the blog, I'll toss in a couple of of bonus selections at the end of each part. Let's jam!

"Starlight Serenade" by Mami Yamase (Metal Armor Dragonar OP2)
Some anime have such an excellent first opening that what comes afterwards is generally forgotten & ignored. This is certainly the case for Dragonar, Sunrise's attempt at replacing Gundam that has never really gotten proper respect for simply being a great 80s mech anime; it didn't get that respect in Japan until barely a decade ago. Still, regardless of what anyone think of the show itself, one part of Dragonar that everyone essentially agrees is awesome is the first OP, "Yume Iro Chaser" by Mami Ayukawa. With an intensely addictive beat, instantly memorable melody, and animation handled by a young Masami Obari (all on his own!), Ayukawa's song is the de facto anthem of this series & deserves that spot, but it's not like its follow up was a poor effort by any means. In fact, it's just about as good in some ways.

Sung by another Mami (Yamase, in this case), "Starlight Serenade" is very much the only direction the show could take, thematically, for the OP. "Yume Iro Chaser" was exciting, non-stop, & unpredictable, much like its lead trio of Ken, Tapp, & Light, three nobodies who are thrust into importance in the war between Earth & the Giganos Empire. "Starlight Serenade" feels like the next step in their lives, graduating from reckless boys into responsible adults who understand & accept the cards life has given them. The animation, not done by Obari but still impressive, compliments this feeling, showcasing the trio in their pilot gear rather than their casual wear & making it feel like they matter in this battle. The second half of Dragonar, in true Sunrise fashion, does get much more serious, though the excellent mix of seriousness & humor is still there, & "Starlight Serenade" fit it perfectly. I'll gladly take a bit of that "Gin-Iro no Cosmic Love" over Gin-Iro no Olynssis any day.

"Yume no Kariudo" by Yukio Yamagata (Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch OP)
One day I'll finally get to watching (& reviewing) Acrobunch, probably still one of the most one-of-a-kind mech anime out there. Instead of an intergalactic war or a battle for the future of the Earth being at stake, Kokusai Eigasha (creator of the awesome & stylish J9 Series) was influenced by the adventure movie craze that hit Hollywood in the 80s & told the world-spanning adventure of the Randou Family, who were searching for the lost treasure of Quaschika while combating the mysterious Goblin Clan (who want the treasure for their own purposes). The show is also notable for being both the professional debut of character designer Mutsumi Inomata (best known for the Tales Series) & the first time legendary seiyuu Norio Wakamoto ever had a main character role (he voiced oldest son Hiro Randou). It's also worth knowing for having an absolutely epic OP (written, composed, & arranged by the same people as the J9 Series, natch).

From the initial shot of Stonehenge to the panning shot of the Nazca Lines, the opening immediately catches your interest, with the soothing voice of Yukio Yamagata (known for singing themes for Baxinger, Zeorymer, & even an insert for Problem children are coming from another world, aren't they?) telling you to "Be Silent" & to listen to the sounds of that which have yet to be found. After that you get an intensely fast-paced & even folkish ballad talking of those "Hunters of Dreams" who look for the new & unknown (the video I embedded features a translation via the captions, so check out the lyrics!). It's simply an amazing song & perfectly fitting for the idea behind the show; every time it plays on my mp3 player I have to sing along to it. I just wish it had an English translation, but I do have raws of the show on hand... One day I'll finally unearth the show that this beautiful song belongs to.

"Keep on Dreaming <SAURERS Version>" by SAURERS (Nekketsu Saikyo Gosaurer OP2)
The OP to Matchless Raijin-Oh, "Dream Shift" by Kinuko Oomori (who was going by the name SILK at the time), is a great theme song, but it wasn't the only entry in the Eldoran Series to be so lucky. While the OP to Genki Bakuhatsu Ganbaruger is enjoyable enough, the final major entry in the series was able to match up perfectly with the original. Nekketsu Saikyo Gosaurer (the literal translation is "The Strongest Hot-Blood", but Sunrise uses "Matchless Passion") has a great OP in "Keep on Dreaming", but for this list I'm not going with the original version sung by Seraphim. Instead, I'm going with the version used as the second OP, the "SAURERS Version", named after what the lead children of the show name themselves after gaining dinosaur-themed robots from Eldoran.

It's not like Seraphim's version is bad by any means, because it's not, but the second version just has more to like about it. One aspect better is that it's sung by some of the main cast, namely Urara Takano (main lead Kenichi), Megumi Hayashibara (Hiromi), Yuri Amano (Shinobu), Bin Shimada (Kinta), & Akemi Shinohara (Yohji). The other aspect that makes this version better than the original is that it's completely orchestral, whereas Seraphim's version was very synth. I'm not saying that synth sucks, and it works just fine for her original version, but once you hear the first few notes of the later version, complete with triumphant trumpets, you can't really go back. It's simply an amazing arrangement done by anime maestro Osamu Tezuka (Gaiking 2005, The Slayers series; not to be confused with the "God of Manga"), and hearing the main cast sing all together just makes the SAURERS Ver. of "Keep on Dreaming" feel so much more grand & spectacular.

"Taiyou no Tsubasa" by Taiko Kamamoto (Brave of the Sun Fighbird OP)
Since we have the Eldoran Series represented in this list, let's also include its cousin franchise, the Brave Series. Much like the previous entry, the best Brave OP is easily the most well known one, "Yuusha-Oh Tanjou!" from King of Braves GaoGaiGar, but honestly every show in the franchise had really good OPs. My personal favorites include "Gather Way" from Brave Exkaiser, "Arashi no Hero" from Brave Express Might Gaine, & "Heart to Heart" from Brave Police J-Decker, but the one that comes closest to matching the final Brave OP is the one from the second entry in the franchise, Brave (Fighter) of the Sun Fighbird.

The show itself is generally considered one of the lesser entries, and even from the first episode I saw of it years ago I could see why; it just wasn't all too interesting & it felt aimless. Still, I wouldn't fault someone for hoping for greatness if they saw the OP. The song is simply awesome right from the start with that initial repeating beat; it really pumps you up. Once Taiko Kamamoto starts singing & the guitar work comes in you simply have to see the entire thing through, and the chorus is simple but highly effective. The coolest thing about the song is that it's not a simple tune, but rather has some nice complexity if you listen to the music itself, which is an excellent plus. While Fighbird may not be one of the shining examples of the Brave Series, it's OP is the opposite & a superb showcase of how the series rocked when it came to OPs.

"Lonely Chaser" by Riyuko Tanaka (Chou Kosoku Galvion OP)
For the longest time, 1984's Galvion was one of the rarest anime to find episodes of, simply because it was never given a home video release after its initial TV airing; hell, it didn't even get to finish said TV run! That finally changed last year when Bandai Visual put the show out on DVD & limited-edition Blu-Ray, complete with some new info on the production, like how four episodes [23-26] were already planned but never made (though ep 23 did get some work on it done). The final mech anime done by Kokusai Eigasha before that company went away, Galvion featured mech designs by Koichi Ohata & (in true Kokusai fashion) was pretty different from mech anime of the time, showcasing a 80s-idealized future where a for-hire group named CIRCUS relied on two criminals who wanted to reduce their time by helping them out with all sorts of risky odd jobs, while also taking on the mysterious organization SHADOW at the same time. In true 80s fashion, the OP was a song that could only have been created during that decade.

First off, that low-key beat before the song itself begins simply oozes the 80s, and the guitar work leading to the title splash is equally so. Riyuko Tanaka's singing makes the song sound both like a fast-paced thriller beat while also being a potential dance number, which is admittedly odd for a mech anime. Still, it's a very stylish song in & of itself; it nothing else, you can never confuse "Lonely Chaser" for another song. The lead-up into the chorus, followed by the chorus itself, is really the highlight, making an already enjoyable song even better. I highly doubt that this show will ever see any sort of English translation, especially since it was so inaccessible before last year (there were some TV rips before then, but they weren't great), but at the very least it's really encouraging to see Chou Kosoku/Super Light Speed Galvion finally hit DVD, let alone home video at all; it gives hope for other shows that haven't yet seen such releases.

"Tatakae! Red Baron" by Shinichi Ishihara (Red Baron OP)
In true fashion, I try to save the best for the end of each Part, and this is definitely one of them. Technically, TMS' Red Baron anime is a reboot of a tokusatsu series from 1973, which we actually got on DVD over here a few years back(!), but from what I can tell the two series are completely different from each other; the only thing they share is the look & name of the giant robot Red Baron. Interestingly enough, this series aired while Mobile Fighter G Gundam did & both shows featured a hot-blooded lead that fought in a giant robot fighting tournament... Considering how both shows aired at essentially the same time, I'm going to call this sheer coincidence. Anyway, while G Gundam was a bit of a debated entry in its franchise, only getting true respect years later, the Red Baron anime was apparently successful in its own right. While the TV ratings were supposedly somewhat middling, the toy line based on it was so popular at the time that the show got extended from 36 episodes to 49. You know what that meant? There were 13 more episodes that featured this astonishing OP that has sadly never been known to most mecha fans.

Truly, all you need to do is listen to this OP, and you're hooked from the start. That start up is immediately charming, though the blatant use of a toy for the pan around is really cheap, but once you see main character Ken Kurenai start dashing towards the Red Baron you know you'll be in for a good time with this OP. The song itself is very much a throwback to mecha OPs of the 70s, where the focus was on detailing the robot itself & celebrating it's awesomeness. That's where this song absolutely delivers, with Shinichi Ishihara putting so much emotion into this delivery; you can't not enjoy listening to this song in any way. Unfortunately, the biggest reason why this show is so unknown (to English speakers, at least, as it was aired on TV in Latin America) is that it's never seen a DVD release, even in Japan; all it received was a VHS release in the 90s. Also, the video I embedded above required me to mix together parts of two different videos on YouTube, because either you get good quality audio but crappy video, or good video (or at least as good it gets) but poor audio. This is easily a series I would love to see all of. Until then... Go, Red Baron!! Yuke, Red Baron!! Ta-Ta-Ka-E! RED-RED-RED-RED! Red Baron!!!

Man, this first bonus selection has to be something mind-blowingly epic to top Red Baron's OP...

"Tatakae! Kikaioh" by Dokumaru & Amigo-tai (Tech Romancer OP)
Hey, I never said that this would be an anime-only list, did I? Notice how I didn't actually put the word "anime" in the title? This is the reason why, and it's a big one. When it comes to Capcom's (admittedly small) line-up of giant robots, pretty much everyone talks about Cyberbots, partially due to its appearances in titles like Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or Project X Zone. Sadly, few people know of the spiritual successor to that title, Chokou Senki/Record of Super Steel Kikaioh, known to English speakers as Tech Romancer. A fully 3D fighting game, compared to Cyberbots' 2D action, Tech Romancer was one gigantic love-letter to giant robots, with Studio Nue & Shoji Kawamori himself helping out with the production. Each selectable robot was a reference to something, whether it was Gundam, Mazinger, Macross, Getter Robo, or even Ultraman (among others), and once you got the hang of the admittedly different control scheme it was a ton of fun to play; you could even unlock the Blodia & pilot Jin Saotome from Cyberbots. The best way to know if you're going to love this game, though, is simply by watching the opening & hearing the theme song...

Yes, the lyrics are simplistic as all hell, which was obviously meant to be the point/joke, but "Tatakae! Kikaioh" is just such an amazingly well done song. It's so good, in fact, that it honestly puts some actual mech anime OPs to shame. Whether it's in the original arcade form or the rock-hard variation for the Dreamcast port that featured actual animation, Dokumaru & Amigo-tai hit gold with this song. It's horrifying to realize that Tech Romancer will remain as obscure as it is & will never see a re-release, but it's the sad truth. That's why I had to make sure to share this OP with all of you, my readers. If you own a Sega Dreamcast & love giant robots yet don't have this game then you must rectify this; it isn't one of the cheapest games to buy for the system, but it's well worth the money.
That ends Part 1 of this look at underlooked mecha songs. Check back later this weekend for Part 2, where we look at some more, some of which aren't even OPs!

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