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  Timefighters in the Land of Fantasy What the heck is 'Fantasy Time'?!
Year: 1976
Director: Ippei Kuri, Hiroshi Sasakawa, Takao Koyama
Stars: Yoshiko Ota, Mari Okamoto, Noriko Ohara, Toru Furuya, Kazuya Tatekabe, Akira Kamiya, Haru Endo, Jouji Yanami, Junpei Takiguchi, Kei Tomiyama, Reiko Katsura, Ryuji Saikachi
Genre: Comedy, Animated, Science Fiction, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: At the start of this second feature film compiled from episodes of the anime series Time Bokan, time-travelling teenagers Junko (voiced by Mari Okamoto) and Tanpei (Yoshiko Ota) are still searching for their missing grandfather, nutty scientist Dr. Kieta (Ryuiji Saikachi), aided by trusty if emotional robot sidekick C-Bot (Reiko Katsura), talking parrot Perasuke (Junpei Takiguchi), and their amazing bug-shaped shape-shifting spaceship. However, Tanpei hits on the smart idea of projecting a second, empty time machine into the past where, sure enough, the good doctor rides it back to the future. Now happily reunited the young heroes still face the task of collecting those elusive energy crystals, Dynamonds, scattered through time and space before they fall into the evil hands of Grocky (Jouji Yanami), Warusa (Kazuya Tatekabe) and sexy, scantily clad villainess Majo (Noriko Ohara) who can't keep her clothes on for very long, even though this is a kid's film. Having seemingly exhausted history, Junko and Tanpei decide to extend their search for the crystals by exploring "fantasy time."

Fantasy time? What the heck? As unlikely as it sounds Tatsunoko Studios, the anime outfit behind the Time Bokan franchise could not come up with enough historical adventures to sustain the entire sixty-one episode television series. So series creator Ippei Kuri and his team contrived this outrageous conceit to have Junko and Tanpei interact with fairytales. Luckily, Time Bokan was never intended as an educational show with meticulous historical research. Fact or fantasy, kids did not care where the leads ended up so long as there was wild robot battles, silly slapstick and general fun to be had. Nevertheless in blurring the lines between history, literature and surreal science fiction, Time Bokan unwittingly opened the door for unhinged children's anime like Superbook (1981), a Biblical-themed show wherein two kids and their robot buddy are catapulted into the Old Testament where super-intelligent dinosaurs plot to steal the elusive Time Gospel so they can assassinate Jesus Christ.

Junko and Tanpei fractured fairytale adventures seem almost sober by comparison. The time teens rescue Snow Flake (sounds like?), a young princess imprisoned by an evil Queen, help nice young Jack climb the beanstalk to battle the malevolent giant, arrive in Hamelin the town overrun with rats before the Pied Piper shows up and play fairy godmother to help lovely downtrodden Cinderella go to the ball. Through it all they're opposed by the terrible trio of Grocky, Warusa and Majo who deploy all kinds of ridiculous giant animal-shaped robots to disrupt things. These include a robot stegosaurus dubbed with Godzilla's roar, a sake-swigging robot Tanuki (see Studio Ghibli's Pom Poko (1994) for a glimpse of these folkloric shape-shifting raccoons), a King Kong-sized robo-ape that wields giant cymbals as a sound-wave weapon. Perhaps the most memorable is the giant robot ant-eater with the power to mess with people's minds (y'know, like ant-eaters do) which results in a surprisingly unsettling sequence wherein our young heroes freak out on nightmarish hallucinations then beat each other up! Tatsunoko were famous for the visceral intensity of their superhero shows, e.g. Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972), released in an English dub as Battle of the Planets, and even their more whimsical children's fare like Paul's Miraculous Adventures (1976) or Hutch the Honeybee (1970) could not resist including the odd traumatic incident.

The re-edited English dub renders an already breakneck narrative even more frenetic with some big continuity holes. We also have a greater number of musical sequences this time around. Lovely Junko sings a treacly ballad during a flashback to happy times with grandfather while the villains constantly burst into song ("We are devils, we are cads and everywhere we go we are the lowest of the low!"). Unfortunately the Americanized version replaces most of the original jaunty J-pop soundtrack with borderline atonal synth mush that manages the unique feat of being infernally catchy whilst only barely resembling music. Nonetheless, nearly forty years on this still ranks among the most charming and inventive anime ever made. The chara designs by then teen prodigy and future fine artist Yoshitaka Amano retain their charm, displaying a notable Disney influence with the fairytale characters, Cinderella in particular, and the shape-shifting mecha action is as marvelously madcap as before. Imagine Transformers meets Looney Tunes with a dose of Wacky Races thrown in. Alas, there was no third compilation movie but rest assured, the TV show had a happy ending. Ah, Junko.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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