The years leading up to the year 2000 could be summed up in a few words : Tamiya, Shadow Warrior, Y2K virus, Jig (too bad DBTC doesn’t have this anymore), Gundam, Playstation and AXN.
We were still subscribed to Destiny Cable back then, and at the time, well at least since 1995, it pretty much kicked Sky Cable’s ass. Now, many years later, Destiny had pretty much gone the way of the dodo, and went from awesome to being a million miles from awesome, something that happens when something has the word “destiny” on it.
As with most teens around that time period (I was in high school then) you watch TV – a lot of it. I watched about 4 – 5 hours per day, mostly after school. Cable TV was filled with many awesome things then. At the time, AXN was the biggest thing on our cable tv subscription, beating out my love for the Discovery Channel. Sure, I wanted educational TV, and while I did learn lots and totally enjoyed Discovery’s shows then (Beyond 2000, Wings, Lonely Planet, Travelers…) you can only see, and take in so much information. Educational shows required you to think, to process those thoughts, then eventually go do some McGyvering something afterwards to realize those thoughts.
Enter AXN’s line-up.
There were no educational shows – it’s most action packed stuff, like their coverage of the WRC, the still amazingly awesome Who Dares Wins (I still want in on it), various action shows and movies, and anime. They started out offering English dubs of popular anime titles, in a one hour segment during the late afternoons. Due to it’s popularity, it grew in length, eventually spanning a 2 hour time slot, and then went even more awesome when they ditched the dubs, and aired shows in Japanese audio with English subs.
Rurouni Kenshin, You’re Under Arrest, Ninku, Flame of Recca, Van Dread 1-2, Blue Submarine 6, Steam Detectives, Ghost in the Shell, Fushigi Yuugi, Grander Musashi, my personal favorite Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko, Clamp School and loads of other shows. I was finally able to satiate my inner otaku by being able to watch all these amazing shows, made even more amazing by the fact that stuff was only available on VHS then, and there was no way in hell that a high schooler like me can afford to buy a VHS tape.
A lot of these became gateway anime for many people. One of the more amazing and popular, at least of kids of my age, was Kacho Oji, fully titled as “The Legend of Black Heaven”.
The series deals with a man named Oji, a bad ass heavy metal guitar god in the past, who’d gone away from music to work as a salaryman in Tokyo. Nearing middle age, he struggles with many things in life – bills, his family, his work and misses his old rock n roll life. One day, he is recruited by an alien chic to play music for her. The said alien chic is from the future, and during her time, the army she belongs to is engaged in giant space battles. Part of their weaponry, which thankfully did not include Gundams, is a powerful laser cannon, that they discovered to respond to music from Oji’s old band, Black Heaven. Thinking they can epically power up the weapon, and hasten the war, they get him to play his music live. It’s all cool, and the first try worked out. The only problem was as the series progressed, the enemy is becoming more powerful, and a single laser shot was not really working all that well. Oji is caught between an interstellar war, the ghosts of past, his crumbling marriage and trying to get his old band members back to help him out.
The plot is pretty thin, even predictable in some cases. But looking back on it, while it didn’t exactly feature plenty of action, there was a lot of slice of life stuff going on. But the most important, and probably main attraction of the show, is how it posits music as a weapon. The anime has an amazing soundtrack, ranging from bluesy, to headbanging rock. The opening theme, “Cautionary Warning”, remains popular to this day, enduring in the hearts and minds of a lot of people who’d seen the show. The song, written entirely in English, was culled from an album called “20th Century” (1997) by famed 80’s metal god John Sykes. Instantly recognizable even in the opening notes, it’s a heavy metal song featuring Sykes’ amazing voice, and trademark guitar work.
I was beginning to get into music at this point in time, but I didn’t exactly play anything yet. I went to piano school, which I eventually quit because it was boring and repetitive. I wanted to learn guitar, but couldn’t get beyond the D chord because it hurts my fingers. My deepest leanings was Savage Garden, and I was under the opinion that Limp Bizkit is the best rock band ever.
But every time the show airs, I am treated to amazing music and action. While I didn’t quite understand the intricacies of the music being featured on the show, nor ever heard the songs being passed off as episode titles, I totally dug those. Looking back on it, the animation and art wasn’t exactly up to par as most modern anime, and even to a guitar ignoramus like my 14 year old self, I can tell Oji’s animated hands aren’t really going anywhere.
We have to remember though that this show was made many years before Haruhi Suzumiya, where Nagato’s memorable lead playing is pretty spot on, even in animated form.
Because the show was mostly about music, with flashbacks showing the band’s rock n roll life, John Sykes was brought on board as an adviser to the production outfit, Pioneer AIC. The episode titles are actually famous rock titles from various artists that the show paid homage to, with the most numerous ones coming from UFO / MSG.
While “Cautionary Warning” is indeed the single piece of music associated with the show, most of the soundtrack was actually made by one of my favorite guitarists from Japan, Korenaga Koichi, a songwriter whose main gig is now with the famed female group, Kalafina.
The show also paid homage to many things and persons about rock music – for example, it used a rotoscoped video of a live UFO gig, the band’s name seems to be a pun of “Black Sabbath”, Oji owns a whole bunch of UFO / MSG materials, and even the newspaper that he was reading on the first episode had an article about Michael Schenker, being touted in Japan the “God of Guitar”.Also, Oji played a Gibson Flying V, colored white – this was the exact kind of guitar that Michael Schenker played in the entirety of his career.
The show spanned only 13 episodes, and so can be finished within a 2 week run. However, at this time, AXN didn’t have lots of shows on hand, and the series ended up being repeated an nth number of times. This totally ingrained the show to my memory, and for a lot of other people as well. I cannot remember the whole show clearly now, the only images that remain with me is Oji’s Flying V, (which partly is the reason I recently purchased a used, custom made Flying V) and the music from the show, which I have recently begun collecting. I have yet to find this on DVD, and most streaming sites don’t have this show, not exactly surprising seeing as how it’s been 16 years since was first released. Kids at cons nowadays do not know of this gem of a show, and that’s quite sad, since most kids who know of an anime based around music mostly know about Beck, or DMC or something.
Thanks to this show and many others, I had a relatively normal high school that’s not beset by learning to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, joining a street gang or knocking up some random girl. Hard rock saved my high school indeed, and even now it saves me from the craziness of daily living.
**the blog title is a pun on the title of the abovementioned anime**
**pardon me for sticking in a lot of Michael Schenker mentions, I’m just a huge fan**