Memories of Anime Insider: ME AND GOKU

It's time for me to talk about Anime Insider, a little magazine that shut down this past Thursday.

I was an associate editor at Anime Insider from August 2005 to May 2008, spanning issues 25 through 58. I previously wrote some dull Livejournal entry about my time at the magazine, but I can summarize all of it by saying this: I enjoyed working there, no matter how dumb it was. And here's what I remember most about my time spent on an anime mag at the height of the manga/anime/Japan-crazy bubble.

Best Cover: Issue 50, far and away.

For our 50th issue, the company higher-ups surprised us all by paying for an exclusive illustration from Gainax. Rei, Asuka, and the cake were drawn by Fumio Iida, an artist who’s worked on a staggering variety of animation, from the original Macross movie to that Little Nemo film to Gurren Lagann (plus Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates). I also like how Rei’s head obscures just enough of the magazine’s name to possibly make it “Anime Insidious.”

My second favorite? I liked the front of issue 46. Most of the magazine’s covers used backgrounds of subtle patterns and bold colors, but this one slapped on the white space to imitate Rolling Stone.

Seldom did we use concept covers, and I think our imitation music mag came together nicely, even if the Beck kid’s eyes are strangely off.

My favorite cover artwork would be this Cowboy Bebop piece from issue 20. It was another illustration made especially for Anime Insider, though you'll also see it preserved in a recent book of Toshihiro Kawamoto’s art.

The overall cover isn’t as striking as the openers that the magazine had in its later years, but I’ve always been a fan of Kawamoto’s style. Besides, Faye and Spike are observing proper trigger discipline with their firearms, and we were all about setting good examples for the republic's impressionable youth.

Miyazaki's Travels Beyond Gulliver

It’s easy to overlook Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon. Toei really tried to make this 1966 film, known in Japan as Gulliver’s Space Journey, an international hit, but it fared poorly in American theaters and stayed quite obscure throughout the age of VHS tapes. A cheap DVD release crept out in 2003 from Catcom, which bundled the film with the Fleischer brothers’ better-known 1939 Gulliver’s Travels movie and shipped the result to a handful of Half-Price Books outlets around the country. Once again, few people noticed it.

The cover hardly suggests an unappreciated landmark in animated cinema, yet Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon is an intriguing study. On one hand, it’s a routine, unchallenging kids’ movie about a boy named Ricky who joins an elderly Gulliver and some animal friends (and a pompous toy soldier) for a trip to a far-off planet called the Star of Hope. There they meet a race of bizarre semi-humans and save a princess from robots gone mad. On the other hand, it’s a visually remarkable film. Toei was clearly aiming to establish their children’s fare as a success outside of Japan, and Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon takes more inspiration from bleaker, stranger European animation than the Tezuka-derived imagery of its Japanese contemporaries. From its alien landscapes to the jagged, windup-toy inhabitants of the Star of Hope, the movie often has a haunting, surreal quality that clashes with the somewhat cartoonish heroes. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t win over too many kids.

The DVD release of Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon slipped by many, but Let’s Anime took a detailed look at it, while one kind soul uploaded a few clips from the movie. Among them is the memorable montage of "Rise, Robots, Rise," which makes a sudden, nightmarish switch from smiling little Rocky and Bullwinkle automatons to an army of stovepipe-legged robot fascists stomping on human faces forever.

There’s another reason to check out Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon: it was supposedly the first film truly influenced by a young Hayao Miyazaki, who’d go on to co-found Studio Ghibli and polish up anime’s public image worldwide (he’d also borrow the floating island of Laputa from Gulliver’s Travelers for his own Castle in the Sky). A possibly apocryphal story has it that Miyazaki, despite being a lowly and uncredited animator who'd worked on only one other Toei film, changed a climactic scene in Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon. The original script painted the people of the Star of Hope as doll-like creatures cast out by their own mechanical creations, but Miyazaki wanted to take the idea further, and director Yoshio Kuroda let him animate a new ending.