BEM (2019)

Remakes of classic shows feel risky, since time can divest modern audiences of context, and of course tastes around art styles and technological advancements change the visual landscape so quickly.

And here we have BEM, a remake created as part of a 50 year anniversary, and so the characters have been around a little while 🙂

Doubly so, that risk I’ve been thinking about seems to stand true for an international audience unfamiliar with the original (which was definitely me) but I took a chance on BEM because I like the supernatural and science-fiction genres.

And while I haven’t seen the 1968 nor the 2006 versions of BEM, I’m quite curious to do so now.

At the core of the series is a struggle for identity and belonging, combined with the Pinocchio quest – a favourite plot in anime for decades.

Here’s a quote adapted from wiki on the premise:

Even though Bem, Bela and Belo (three yokai) are often abused and discriminated against by other human beings due to their appearance, they still strive to protect the human populace of their city from other monsters, one day hoping to become human beings in return for their good actions.

On that note, the theme of ‘becoming human’ is one I craved a little more of in the anime* but it’s definitely present, as the three leads each face doubts about their desire to change.

While they explore the dream, there is a ‘monster of the week’ episodic feel to the early half of the anime, giving us time to get to know the yokai, and I probably enjoyed these episodes better in part because when the ‘big bad’ was at last revealed and brought in to the narrative, it was maybe a little late. She had less impact for me.

On the other hand, the designs were memorable and the action was fun and the themes of discrimination were welcome (depressing as they could be) as it added another aspect to the anime. In this, I imagine there’s a clear link back to the original, surely.

But getting back to the idea of risk, another thing I noticed were the 1960s kinda character designs that remained.

I reckon the artists would have wanted to update things without destroying the original designs.

To me it worked overall for sure, but two things struck me – the most obvious being Bela’s change from adult to teen, and the second being the occasional character like the bowling ball bad guy, who felt kinda goofy.


Those issues aside, I finished the short anime interested in more and enjoyed it enough to seek out the film BEM: Become Human, which luckily enough at the time, AnimeLab had on hand.

3 Stars

*The movie definitely does explore this theme in more depth and the animation budget seemed a bigger too.

(Also, I enjoyed the OST from Soil & “Pimp” Sessions, the themes most of all I think).

Astro Boy (1980) 40th Anniversary

It’s the 40th Anniversary of Astro’s colour version this year!

A fact which makes me realise that this particular show and I are getting on a bit (I’m pretty close to the same age now :D). Of course, we all know that Osamu Tezuka first had Mighty Atom debut back in the early 1950s, so the character is really getting on, but he’s also one that has remained beloved.

After the 1980s remake, there was the 2003 TV series and then a 2009 CGI feature film, and a few even more recent spin-off/versions of the hero. From memory, there’s also French production around 2019, but I can’t remember the details.

And related, there’s a still-forthcoming adaption of Pluto which I’m excited about – but basically, all this is me trying to say that I’m happy to see Astro is still someone folks want to see in action.

Astro Boy was the first anime I saw, but of course I didn’t know it was ‘anime’ then. I would have been watching re-runs in the late 1980s and I still remember that it seemed very different from other animated shows. It struck me as far ‘sadder’ actually – more willing to take the gloves off for difficult moments.

It also had everything I was looking for as a kid; a fantastically different future world, robots, battles, heaps of variety in character design, bold voice acting and even a bit of humour.

Perhaps more importantly, it had things I didn’t quite understand at the time – characters didn’t always act in ways that I grasped at first, but made me want to keep watching, to find out why they made the choices they did.

But it had something else too…

Atlas!

As much as I was definitely onboard with Astro saving the day, Atlas was compelling in a different way.

He had such a commanding voice to my young ears, he was powerful, and had a killer design and more, he was steeped in mystery. Atlas also stood out to me because he was connected to an ongoing narrative (to some extent), which immediately made him more memorable compared to other characters, since Astro is quite an episodic series.

But I think the most important thing about Atlas was that he was probably the first example I’d seen of a redemption arc – but I won’t spoil things here. Instead, I’ll just say that for one of the antagonists, he is portrayed sympathetically enough at times, so that as a kid (and probably when I re-watch the series) I felt for him.

Years later, I found out that Atlas had a fairly different role in the 1950s and 1960s and so that’s part of why I’ve only seen few of those episodes from the black and white series. I also discovered (when I received a very cool tin/boxed set for one birthday or another) that Australian broadcast had skipped over the true opening – and thus I was missing some key information about Atlas.

It’s been maybe ten years since I last watched all the 1980s Astro episodes but I did use the The Wreck Of The Titan in class one year, which is probably a fair example of what I think of when I consider Astro to be a kids show that doesn’t shy away from the sad moments.

So for the 40th anniversary of the colour series I think I might do a few more posts on Astro Boy over the next few months!

And as a final note (something I’ll probably come back to in another post) – the 1980s version has a great jazz fusion OST (well, not all tracks are such).

But during the ‘Astro vs Atlas’ battle theme, which I’ll try include below, I think it’s clear that the Seatbelts gave a nod to this piece in their Cowboy Bebop opener Tank!