In the first three months of this year, although still holding back on watching recently airing series as they streamed just to be sure I wouldn't be caught by production delays, I did keep reaching well back in time. For the 1970s, I could keep watching Voltes V. In my last quarterly review I mentioned how I’d happened on a bit of unremembered complexity in its “super robot” action, if not “in the nick of time,” then at least late enough to be grateful on finding it. There were further twists yet in the story of invasion from space that surprised me anew. I wondered a bit about “unexpected yet welcome themes,” then asked myself if that said just as much about my own assumptions about “what might get into anime at any point” and “Japan as a whole.” In any case, I wound up quite willing to accept impressions the series is remembered with fondness. Like all things, Voltes is transitional; I did wonder a bit whether some twists were carried as far as they could have (or, at least, could have been introduced a bit sooner). At the same time, I told myself the series might be distinctive for not having carried those ideas to the point of them “taking over” as they’ve done in later stories. In the end I’m willing to say the show was interesting in itself, not just as something in between properties older and newer.

I was also continuing to watch City Hunter 2 from the 1980s. As I’ve said before, the series not having a built-in “end goal” to its comedic action seems to help it carry on at some length, although by now frequent hints of some sort of just-subsurface romantic feelings between “City Hunter” Ryo and his oft-irate assistant Kaori could give a sense of somewhere to go. A good number of two-episode stories are included in the series by now, and a few more characters are starting to recur (one of who appears to have been in an earlier episode I can’t quite remember any more). A coffee shop has also shown up that looks just like how I remember the one in Cat’s Eye, an earlier series from the original manga artist Tsukasa Hojo. (The three art thief sisters of that series who’d used the coffee shop as their cover don’t appear, though, even if I understand they make at least a cameo appearance in the City Hunter revival movie from a few years back.)

After a bit of back-and-forth, I settled on an OVA from the 1990s with a title elaborate enough it registered on me quite a while ago, although I only picked up All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku in the recent past via an “SD on BD” from Discotek. Familiar enough with “cat girls” from more modern anime and artwork, I did note how Nuku Nuku doesn’t have (standard) “cat ears,” but is rather a robot girl implied more than shown to run via a cat brain installed by the inventor who’d spirited her away from a a heavy manufacturing concern that had intended to develop her for military purposes. A few thoughts of how she’s energetic and helpful did bounce against all the cultural impressions of cats as “lazy and self-centred”; I also pondered my impressions of “English-language anime fandom in the early 1990s and the titles commercially available then.” In any case the OVA was lightweight, enjoyable mayhem, with the company trying to retrieve Nuku Nuku every so often even as the inventor’s estranged wife, high-placed in the firm, was just as intent on getting her young son back. (I suppose all of that was open to critical readings of “old opinions on women in business authority.”)

To watch something from the decade just past, I decided it was getting time to open up some discs of a series I’d already seen streaming. It might not have taken me that long to decide on Lupin the 3rd Part IV. Since watching it for the first time I’d seen a later Lupin series and a lengthy series from decades before, which made a music cue or two familiar. The attention I paid at first to “guest characters whose stories are told in one episode,” with thoughts of the old episodic series of American television, was also familiar from before, although I also wound up noting the “recurring characters of this series.” After finishing the show I started reading a hardcover selection of tales from the original Lupin the Third manga by Monkey Punch; its art style was quite distinctive even if it had a certain sleaziness I’ve associated before with “post-sexual revolution, pre-women’s lib.”

After jamming episodes of all of those titles into the first days of this year, I made the time to also take in a nearly-new “Original Net Animation.” Sorairo Utility might be called “cute girls golfing cutely,” but its relative brevity (if not that of a mere “five-minutes short”) might have made it “all golf” where a series-length expansion is easy to imagine also involving hanging out at high school. I then headed on to a series from a full two seasons back I hadn’t quite gathered up the will to watch three months before; mutterings about the season following it might have kept my eyes turned back, though. Kageki Shojo! is set in an acting school feeding into a version under a different name of the all-female Takarazuka Revue. (Recently re-reading Pure Invention, I happened to notice the young Osamu Tezuka had been a fan of the revue.) Melodrama is laid on thick involving the pasts and sometimes presents of the aspiring actresses, but I do keep admitting a taste for melodrama is part of what keeps me watching anime. I was caught up enough in the series I went and ordered its currently available manga partway through it.

I’d heard about one episode of Tropical Rouge Pretty Cure that happened to feature especially eye-catching animation (as it introduced a “mid-series upgrade”) before I got to it myself, but was surprised in turn by a somewhat later episode made up of short sketch segments. I did pick up the pace I was watching it at, thinking to finish it by the end of these three months and move on to the next, already-airing Pretty Cure series. The final episodes did have a bit more impact to them than this amiable series had in general. However, a hacking incident at Toei Animation had the next Pretty Cure, which had looked to include an interesting new concept or two distinct from the two franchise instalments I’ve now seen, delayed by several weeks. That cut down on the buffer of completed episodes and did leave me wondering if I should wait another three months.

The indignation of a good many anime fans at Netflix not playing by the rules they’re used to and letting them soak in recurring discussions of one new episode a week seems to take a certain toll on the enduring reception of their series, but I have to admit that knowing everything will be available when I start watching keeps appealing to me. I was interested in The Orbital Children for being science fiction; a certain number of people were talking up it being directed by Mitsuo Iso, who had made a series more than a decade before that still gets talked up every so often (although I still haven’t managed to get around to Dennou Coil). His new Netflix exclusive was made up of six slightly longer episodes, bringing “the good old days of OVAs” to mind. I did, though, find myself trying to articulate the uncertainty of my reactions when the kids launching into space on a tourist jaunt and the kids born in space and dealing with health issues were all thoroughly networked with cell phone interfaces projected on their hands and equipped with artificial intelligence drones. Maybe it seemed a distraction from “space travel itself,” although that having been an idea since the days when “onboard orbital calculations” had been envisioned as involving slide rules might need some considering too. I took more interest in a disaster-in-space scenario that had the characters trying to get by without so much networking for a while, although by the close of the series artificial intelligence taking on a cosmic scale might have reminded me that’s been a part of science fiction for a good many years too.

My own order of the fabulous new Blu-Ray of Project A-ko had been tossed in among many other items, chasing as ever that foolish rainbow called “free shipping.” Waiting for all of it to come together and be sent out, I did notice enthusiastic reactions to Discotek’s new production through the channels where I’d been keeping up with its progress towards release. That did, though, get me thinking. Where some English-speaking anime fans might have managed to see the movie at conventions or passed hand-to-hand in the late 1980s, some had seen it via licensed videotapes or even laserdiscs in the early 1990s, and some had seen it on cable in the late 1990s, I hadn’t got around to it until this side of the millennium. Even if I recall having liked it then, I was now supposing it couldn’t be a “foundational experience” for me the way it seemed for so many others. I did wonder if I’d become interested in the upcoming Blu-Ray just through the first announcements it would have to be made by averaging laserdisc sources together using the “Domesday Duplicator” and then enhancing the image using “Astrores,” and as much as I knew the actual film being found at last would mean something better I’d been left with idle curiosity about how the first plan might have turned out.

Once I’d started watching the movie at last, though, it didn’t take long at all until I’d got caught up in the energy of its assorted bizarre spoofs. It’s just possible, too, that I found a certain small compensation in Project A-ko not being “one of the mind-blowing first works of anime I saw.” I could think back to other theatrical features animated in Japan before, during, and after the 1980s that I’ve seen and wonder how many of them had made certain efforts to be “respectable” (especially if they were “original stories.”) Project A-ko, on the other hand, had cartoon flesh, comedic violence (with just an edge of acknowledgment people were being killed in certain ostensibly serious bits of its story), and slashy innuendo. The obvious effort put into animating this, more than the simple fact of the effort, might have seemed the clearest sign of the vanished “bubble era,” but having found myself prone to enjoy “absurd situations presented with a straight face” through more recent anime series I did manage a few hopeful thoughts the movie wasn’t altogether a relic. Dipping into the ample on-disc extras after it was all over, I did find a comment some trailers had been enhanced the way the feature itself had once been intended to be; while I did have an impression they weren’t quite as impressive as the original film, they did look a lot better than some of the unretouched extras. I had supposed it was also such an improvement on the existing video of the franchise follow-ups (even if there seems just a bit of disagreement over which is the most disposable) as to end things then and there; then, though, there was an announcement at least the first of those lesser successors would be coming out on Blu-Ray.

Once I’d finished Voltes V, I moved straight on to Daimos, the third of the super robot anime series directed by Tadao Nagahama that were later called the “Robot Romance Trilogy.” This show did include more of the familiar and more limited definition of “romance,” with the lone pilot of the titular giant robot (where Combattler V and Voltes V assemble from five units in very similar ways, Daimos transforms from a giant truck and also has a face with a mouth) and a female representative of the invading aliens (they have “angel wings,” but can tuck them out of sight and mind) falling in love in circumstances different from how I’d first imagined. A familiar amount of melodrama soon develops, though, with the pilot using karate against aliens and in Daimos against enemy robots of the week alike.

With a bit of extra time available one day I thought I could watch another movie. After some thinking about it, I settled on a Blu-Ray of Memories, another all-out effort from Discotek, I’d acquired not that long ago. The movie is in fact an anthology of three forty-minute features, all based on work by the creator of Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo. It’s obvious a lot of work went into the project, and its three sections are quite varied in setting and style with a “haunted space station” that had contributions from Satoshi Kon and Yoko Kanno, a black comedy of an accidental and oblivious biological weapon and the military overreaction to him, and a sort of fable of total war without end in a style it might take a long moment to think of as “anime” rather than “world animation.” At the same time, they might all have a certain bleakness to their stories, if with different ways of disguising that.

I hadn’t waited three months between the two blocks of episodes of the series 86 the way many others had, but that might have made needing to wait almost three months for two last episodes that much rougher and required some rallying of mood just to get started again. Uneasiness vaporized, though, when the first of them seemed to set up an encounter at last between the two separated halves of the story’s beginning. Even that turning into a mere tease didn’t bother me, although I supposed there’d be many more such teases before my impressions of where things were going from the half-remembered covers of the original “light novels” became reality. In the very next episode, though, the meeting happened after all, even if I got to thinking it was a “stopping point” satisfying enough to be suitable for an adaptation that wasn’t promising anything more. I picked up the first translated novel at last, if with my usual uneasiness about sensitivity to “translation in bulk producing awkward sentences.” By now, though, I’ve read through that novel at a clip that accelerated as I went; maybe I’ll be able to say a bit more about that.