Charles Solomon

Oct. 24, 2012 | 5:00 a.m.

‘Akira’s’ Katsuhiro Otomo takes fiery turn in ‘Combustible’

Katsuhiro Otomo, the director of the watershed Japanese animated feature “Akira,” will make a rare personal appearance at REDCAT in downtown L.A. on Saturday to receive the first lifetime achievement award from the Platform International Animation Festival and to screen his new short film, “Combustible.” Otomo, who began his career as a manga artist, has written and directed numerous features, but he’s best known for “Akira” (1988), which was one of a handful of key films that created an audience for anime in America. Based on his own manga, the film offers a dystopic vision of a future divided between the opulent towers of Neo-Tokyo and the slums beneath, where cultists and biker thugs fight brutal police officers. Like Wagner’s Valhalla, Neo-Tokyo is built on greed and corruption and is doomed to destruction, even at the height of its splendor. […]
June 29, 2012 | 2:23 p.m.

Anime Expo 2012: ‘Martian Successor Nadesico’ is seriously funny

Anime Expo, the largest convocation of fans of Japanese animation and manga in the country, is now underway at the Los Angeles Convention Center — more than 125,000 are expected to attend. One of the guests of honor is Tatsuo Sato, the creator of an outrageous TV spoof of anime fan culture called “Martian Successor Nadesico,” which is a bit like inviting the Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons” to speak at Comic-Con International. The Nadesico is a state-of-the-art space battleship (complete with crew jackets, Ping-Pong tables and vending machines) run by a crew of teenage misfits. When he’s not fighting the invading Jovian Lizards, the series’ unlikely hero, fry cook-turned-combat-pilot Akito Tenkawa, watches reruns of “Gekigangar 3,” a hilarious sendup of early giant robot shows in the “Gigantor” mold. Clips from the show-within-the-show feature a disco theme song, stilted animation, hammy […]
April 11, 2012 | 2:42 p.m.

‘Pokémon’ at 15: Success is still in the cards, films and TV shows

After 15 years, 700 TV episodes and 14 feature films, Ash Ketchum and millions of kids are still trying to catch ’em all. In April 1997, the animated version of “Pokémon” premiered on Japanese television. Based on the hit Nintendo Game Boy title introduced two years earlier, the series follows the travels and travails of Ketchum (Satoshi in the original) as he tries to become a Pokémon Master by building a team that can beat other trainers in stylized battles. Traveling with Ash are perennially love-sick Brock, feisty Misty and Pikachu, the “electric mouse” Pokémon. The series scored a huge hit in Japan, and by 1999 the game and show had conquered America. Pokémon paraphernalia were everywhere. The original motto, “Pokémon Getto Daze!” (Let’s Get Pokémon!) became “Gotta Catch ’em All!” The first “Pokémon” feature film grossed more than $85 […]
April 03, 2012 | 6:59 p.m.

Pixar auction: An animated effort for Japan’s tsunami recovery

Some of the top artists at Pixar Animation Studios have donated artwork and memorabilia to an EBay auction that will benefit victims of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. Organized to mark the one-year anniversary of the disaster, the auction is part of an international fundraising effort by Artists Help Japan. Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, the Tokyo-born art director of “Toy Story 3,” founded Artists Help Japan in 2011 in response to the destruction in northern Honshu. Artists and musicians have donated their talents to help raise over $240,000 to date. The online auction is one of a series of events taking place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Paris, New York and London. “Artists whom I know in various cities contacted me, asking to contribute,” Tsutsumi says. “What moved me even more than the money they raised was the idea that there […]
March 24, 2012 | 6:18 p.m.

Pixar’s link to Picasso? UPA, the overlooked animation pioneer

Sixty years ago, United Productions of America was the little studio that could — and did. Drawing inspiration from the work of Picasso, Kandinsky and other modern masters, the UPA artists transformed the look of world animation. Their use of bold graphics, striking colors and stylized movements influenced “Sleeping Beauty” and the Oscar-winning “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” from Disney, Warner Bros.’ “What’s Opera, Doc?” and the work of studios from Montreal to Zagreb. More than 50 years after the studio’s brief heyday (1949-56), its stamp can still be seen in films and TV shows, including “Samurai Jack,” “The Secret of Kells,” “Phineas and Ferb” and “The Princess and the Frog.” This month, TCM released the first of two long-awaited DVD sets of the UPA cartoons, and on Friday, LACMA will host an evening of films with Adam Abraham, author […]
March 08, 2012 | 2:36 p.m.

‘Sailor Moon’: Serena’s arrival 20 years ago changed anime

This post has been corrected, as detailed below. Twenty years ago this week, a new face debuted on Japanese television: ditzy, often klutzy, the 14-year-old Serena had a disdain for homework, often overslept and seemed forever hungry, especially for desserts — hardly a prepossessing heroine. But Serena’s arrival on “Sailor Moon,” based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi, would alter the course of animation and fandom on both sides of the Pacific. The manga and the original 43-episode program “Bishojo Senshi Sera Mun” (variously translated as “Pretty Soldier, Guardian” or “Scout, Sailormoon”) spawned sequels, movies, video games, stage musicals, a live-action TV show and countless licensed products, from dolls to Cosplay costumes. “Sailor Moon” also sparked an interest in shojo (girls’) manga and anime in America. Serena thinks of herself as the ordinary girl she appears to be until the talking cat […]
Feb. 15, 2012 | 12:59 p.m.

Fullmetal Alchemist: ‘Sacred Star of Milos’ keeps magic alive

The animated adventures of the prodigal mages Edward and Alphonse Elric came to a dramatic and seemingly definitive conclusion at the end of the television series “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” in 2009. But the characters are so popular — Hiromu Arakawa’s original manga has sold more than 50 million books worldwide — that more stories were inevitable. “Fans get emotionally attached to their favorite series and characters,” said Lance Heiskell of FUNimation, which releases the animated “Fullmetal Alchemist” in America. “ ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ has been on the air since 2004 and its popularity is the highest it’s ever been.” Kazuya Murata, who directed the Fullmetal Alchemist feature “The Sacred Star of Milos” (link in Japanese), released last year and currently in limited release throughout the U.S., talked about the challenges of working with such a well-known and beloved property in an email interview. “We had […]
Dec. 19, 2011 | 6:34 a.m.

‘Summer Wars,’ ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ lead Top 10 of 2011 anime

Just as 2011 was the year of the sequel in American animation, many of the year’s best anime releases were sequels, continuations or reworkings of familiar properties. But the reimagined versions often improved on the original. The characters and story lines in many of the year’s top anime may be familiar, but the filmmakers have taken it up a notch—and in some cases, several notches. 1. “Summer Wars”: In this imaginative science fiction tale, director Mamoru Hosoda juxtaposes the brightly colored CG cyber-realm of Oz with the drawn world of everyday reality. High school math ace Kenji must defeat a renegade AI program in the former and deal with his classmate Natsuki’s quarrelsome clan family in the latter. Hosoda’s deft blending of romance, comedy, action and distinctive visual imagery confirms his place as one of the most interesting directors working in […]
Nov. 05, 2011 | 4:18 a.m.

‘Gundam’: Three decades of a signature force in anime

When Yoshiyuki Tomino’s first “Gundam” series premiered on Japanese television in 1979, its run ended early due to low ratings. But when the same material was recut and released as three theatrical features in 1981 and 1982, the response was so enthusiastic, fans fought over Gundam toys and model kits in toy stores. Three decades later, there have been 25 “Gundam” television series, 11 feature films, plus direct-to-video releases and an IMAX featurette. In 2009-2010, a 59-foot “life-size” statue of a Gundam Mobile Suit was exhibited in Tokyo and Shizuoka to mark the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Gundam plastic model kit. According to some estimates, there have been 10 Gundam models sold for every man, woman and child in Japan. The breadth and effect of that history are timely topics with the home-video release of the feature “Mobile […]
Oct. 10, 2011 | 9:36 a.m.

‘Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths’: A graphic novel of war’s rage

In the thinly fictionalized “Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths,” manga artist Shigeru Mizuki recounts the brutality with which the officers of the Imperial Army treated their own men, a story that has received less attention than their savage abuse of the Chinese and other conquered people. Mizuki drew on his painful experiences as a draftee during World War II, when he was sent to the island of New Britain off the northwest coast of New Guinea. He lost his left arm in battle and caught malaria — which kept him from certain death in a suicide charge ordered by his superiors. Private Maruyama serves as Mizuki’s stand-in: a grunt with a talent for drawing, struggling to survive short rations, miserable weather, tropical diseases and American attacks on the island. Like Willie and Joe, the dogface American privates in Bill Mauldin’s […]
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