Many of the more famous anime and manga is often defined and remembered because of a certain iconic character, unique setting, or piece of machinery (which is often Mecha). Some imported Japanese animations or comics are lucky enough to be imported wholly to the West along with other associated products like models, video games, or toys. Others were not so lucky and came over to our shores in pieces and over a great length of time, forging fans along with way. Both statements above directly apply to one of the most mecha-based military science fiction animes of all time: Armored Trooper V.O.T.O.M.S (装甲騎兵ボトムズSōkō Kihei Botomuzu). After many requests by the loyal readers of FWS, it is high time to suit up and explore VOTOMS!
What is “Armored Trooper VOTOMS”?
VOTOMS is the brainchild of Fang of the Sun Dougram creator Ryōsuke Takahashi and despite being developed in 1983, VOTOMS is still an on-going Japanese military science fiction franchise encompassing anime TV series, OVAs, video games, models, and toys. At about the time that Fang of the Sun Dougram was ending its run on Japanese television, Takahashi and Nippon Sunrise animation studio would continue the mecha-centered war stories with the VOTOMS 52 episode television show that aired on TV Tokyo from April 1st, 1983 through March 23rd, 1984. The 52 episode epic is normally divided into four somewhat equal parts detailing the misadventures of former elite armored trooper Gilgamesh Confederation soldier Chirico Cuvie. Much like Fang of the Sun Dougram, Takashasi would work with the same animation studio and the same mechanical designer, the famed Kunio Okawara, who also worked on Mobile Suit Gundam and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Since the original TV anime series aired on Japanese airwaves in 1983 to 1984, VOTOMS has become one of the most iconic military science fiction animes of all time. This status as an anime legend resulted from VOTOMS being set in a great, more realistic war scenario, with a traumatized ace mecha combat pilot as the main character, and a kick ass mecha design to wrap in all up.
The Plot and Setting of VOTOMS
Armored Trooper VOTOMS takes place in another galaxy called Astragius that had been relatively at peace for over 500 years with the two major galactic powers: the Balarant Union and the Gilgamesh Confederation since the end of the 2nd Galactic War. That was until 7113 AC, when the need for colonial expansion to provide for its large population forced Balarant into bitter and bloody conflict with Gilgamesh over the possession of a single star system on their border. The war (called the 100 Years War or the 3rd Galactic War) would be fought with soldiers, starships, and a new type of armored power suit: the Vertical One-man Tank for Offense & ManeuverS or V.O.T.O.M.S. Developed in 7118 AC, the “machine trooper” rapidly became the primary weapon in this long war and soon after being improved, these one-man powered armor become known as the "Armored Troopers". In 7198, the most famous Armored Trooper mecha model of the 3rd Galactic War was put into the field: the ATM-09-ST “Scopedog” of the Gilgamesh Confederation. Just a few years prior to that, the main character of the VOTOMS universe was born, Chirico Cuvie on planet of Melkia. In the original 1983-1984 TV series, the former elite Red Shoulder Battalion pilot was questioned, tortured, imprisoned due to his unique nature and involvement in an off-the-books mission. As the 100 Years War ends in an uneasy treaty, Chirico breaks out of prison and is on the run in the ruined city of Uoodo on Melkia. Throughout his journeys and the new people he meets, Chirico learns his destiny and a hidden force controlling current events. With the success and loyal following, the original 1983 TV series formed the spine that the rest of the VOTOMS titles are centered around. Most of other titles in the vast VOTOMS franchise focus on Chirico or other people during or around the 100 Years War era.
The Iconic Mecha of VOTOMS: The ATM-09-ST “Scopedog” In the bitter interstellar war between Balarant Union and the Gilgamesh Confederation, the war was mostly waged with smaller CLASS-II Armored Powered Suits known as: Vertical One-man Tank for Offense & ManeuverS or V.O.T.O.M.S and it immediately became an iconic of anime mecha design. One of the most often cited iconic elements of VOTOMS was that the primary mecha and it was not some massive transformer war machine like those seen in Macross or a towering pilot robot like Gundam, but more like the Marauder suits from the Starship Troopers novel. That was not by not chance, but was the vision of smaller combat mecha (about four meters in height) was laid down by both Takahashi & Okawara. This combat mecha, the ATM-09-ST “Scopedog”, would become the overall symbol of the VOTOMS universe and a longtime favorite among modelers and collectors. Even if you did not know the original source of the Scopedog mech suit, you knew intrinsically how good the design was. This was true of me when I would see the Scopedog model kits in the comicbook store in the 1980s. I knew of the Scopedog APS mech long before knowing the name of the source.
It would not be until an early issue of Animerica Magazine that I learned of VOTOMS. According to the source material, the Scopedog was developed in 7198 AC, nearly in the middle of the 3rd Galactic War, and it became the primary foot soldier of the war. To counter the Gilgamesh Confederation new Armored Trooper, the Balarant Union developed the lesser B-ATM series that was an attempted copy of the Scopedog. Some of the Scopedog CLASS-II armored power suit would fall into the hands of private military contractors during and after the war. Often these mercenary suits were painted a different color to differ themselves from the military issue mecha. According to technical data, the standard Scopedog was just under four meters and weight in at 6.7 tons when loaded for combat. While the powerplant is unknown, mecha of this type rely on “Polymer ringers” as a mecha muscular system that requires a liquid that needs to be recharged. The Scopedog has an operational range of 218 hours of the polymer ringers before needing refueling. When it comes to armaments, the Scopedog has a vast array of offensive systems that can be mounted and in-hand.
Classically, the Scopedog is pictured with the GAT-22 30mm heavy box-fed machine gun and shoulder-mounted, magazine-fed grenade launcher. What gives the Scopedog its odd name comes from the tri-camera lens turret system that is slaved directly to the pilot's helmet HUD. While these bipedal walking one-man tanks were impressive, they could be taken out easily by several clean shots and due to this, the Scopedog used rollers in the feet to increase movement speed as defensive maneuver. Since the original series ran in 1983, the Scopedog mecha has been a daring of the Japanese modelling industry and mecha fans alike.
The Historical Context of Armored Trooper VOTOMS
VOTOMS would be developed and broadcast in the Land of the Rising Sun during an interesting time in the history of anime that began in 1972 with Mazinger Z, but came into full bloom with Mobile Suit Gundam and Macross. This anime forged the long running passionate love affair between anime and mecha that bore many offspring and endless plastic statues attesting to the idol worship of the adoring masses that included me very much back-in-the-day. This was also a time when anime studios and creators took more chances with regards to subject matter and more of these titles were being condensed into OVA format rather than lengthy and expensive TV series. Of course, it helped titles like VOTOMS to be funded due to the titanic success of Star Wars that injected new fans and cash into the genre of sci-fi. Helping VOTOMS specifically was the success of Ryōsuke Takahashi’s previous work, Fang of the Sun Dougram, along the popularity of those mecha model kits. Also at the time of VOTOMS release was that the United States market for anime and related products was heating up with the US going through their own Giant Robot Craze fever. While Japan had a developed system for retail sales of anime on VHS and LaserDisc, the market for home media in the United States was still waiting to boil.
This brings about an interesting element of imported anime titles in the US market during the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Before the advent of DVD, anime was sold on VHS or the rarer LaserDisc format. For anime in the typical TV series format, like VOTOMS, the US import companies like US Rendering would package two episodes of the anime on one VHS tape and sell it around $20 at various retailers like Hastings and Suncoast. For smaller series, like Bubblegun Crisis or even the compact OVA titles, the retail anime market in the US was more agreeable rather than the full TV series that would cost the consumer hundreds of dollars to collect.
These mammoth VHS series would also eat up a great deal of shelve space at the local Suncoast Video store, which could have been used for more OVAs. And it never failed that you would trip down to the local anime-friendly video retailer and they were sold out of the very tape you needed and then you would have to order it and it would take fucking six weeks to get it! That happened. Given the time and the state of the internet, it was extremely difficult to preview these series to see if they were worth the cash commitment. At times, you could rent a few of the episodes at your local Block Buster, as I did with Bubblegum Crisis. However, that varied greatly from region-to-region and store-to-store. These were some of the challenges that were overcome by the advent of DVDs, anime on cable, and the improved technology of the internet. Armored Trooper VOTOMS in the West
When it comes to what anime titles were imported to the US back during the 1st and 2nd Wave of Anime in America, it was often more subjective and frankly odd than one might think. After all, the only reason Voltron is the Voltron that we know is due to a mistake made by Toei Animation resulting in World Events Productions receiving the tapes for Beast King GoLion rather than Future Robot Daltanious. Oddly, we did not get a dubbed Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, but somehow, we got Star Musketeer Bismark?! As we discussed in the article on Fang of the Sun Dougram, it almost does not seem fair to us fans of mecha anime that Dougram was never brought over to the western market and I think that same about the various VOTOMS titles that were never imported. For some reason, titles like Beast King GoLion, Macross, and Science Ninja Team Gatchaman were brought over to the shores of America, dubbed, altered for American media consumers, and then aired, feeding the Giant Robot Crazy. However, on the flipside, iconic military sci-fi mecha anime series like VOTOMS and fucking Mobile Suit Gundam were not given the same treatment. Much like Takahashi & Okawara other production, Fang of the Sun Dougram, VOTOMS would never be given the ROBOTECH treatment, but unlike Dougram, the original 1983-1984 VOTOMS TV show would be released for the home video market on VHS tape by Central Park Media’s US Manga Corps at around 1996 as the market for anime on VHS was heating up.
According to scans of the 1996 US Manga Corps one-page ads in publications like Animerica, the original VOTOMS TV show was being sold on the common format of two-episodes per tape. This made owning the *complete* Armored Trooper VOTOMS TV series comprised of 52 episodes an expensive venture, especially considering that each tape retailed at $24 or the boxset of each “stage” (example: the Kummen Jungle Wars) at a lower price point of $99. I did see some of the VHS tapes for Armored Trooper VOTOMS TV series at Suncoast stores in the DFW area, but they were not the complete collection and I did not take the plunge despite my love for military sci-fi mecha-based anime. Video tapes were not the only arrow in the VOTOMS quiver, there was the manga, video games, RPGs, and model kits to draw upon. With US Manga Corps rolling out the VOTOMS TV series on VHS, they also attempted to also print a VOTOMS limited comic book series via their “CPM Comics” imprint. I say, “attempted”, because it seems that only one issue was printed by CPM Comics and any information is extremely limited and/or conflicted.
According to the cover of CPM’s “Armored Trooper VOTOMS #1”, it was intended to be a limited four-issue series, but the only the first issue seems to exist. No online retailer or comic book data site has anything other than the first issue. This seems to me that it is highly likely that only one issue was printed. Then in July of 1997, CPM published a tradepaper back graphic novel collection called “Armored Trooper VOTOMS: Supreme Survivor” which is a prequel to the 1983 TV series that might have originally printed in Japan and then exported to the west via US Manga Corps. Today, this 112 page trade paperback commands a heavy price of nearly a thousand damn dollars and speaks to the rarity and popularity of VOTOMS in the US. But just the hell is it? From the Amazon preview of this expensive graphic novel, new information is presented inside via editorial by Tim Eldred. It seems that this was Supreme Survivor graphic novel was indeed a collection of the aborted comic book series with some nice extras thrown in, but VOTOM superfan Tim does not inform us why the limited series was halted at issue#1. Also from the limited preview on Amazon, I can safely assume that Tim Eldred and CPM Comics developed this VOTOMS work wholly in the United States and is not an translated manga. Given the subject matter of mechs battling one another, the MSF universe of VOTOMS lends itself easily to a video game shooter. At present, about 20 videos have been released with a VOTOMS theme for the Japanese market, with the majority of titles being released on the original PlayStation and PS2 consoles.
As far as I know, none of the VOTOMS games were officially released in the States. Now, there can be no real separation between the iconic mecha of VOTOMS and the fictional universe itself (just like Dougram). The Okawara designed Scopedog served as the ambassador to the Takahashi’s military sci-fi franchise, and to this very day, model kits and display pieces are made in lovely detail of the Scopedog APS at all price points. Since 1984, imported model kits of the mecha of the 100 Years War have been for sale in the US, and for many, this is how they learned of Armored Trooper VOTOMS (as the same was for Dougram). For more 12 years, the models were the only real product of VOTOMS in the US. In this new era of information and commerce, Armored Trooper VOTOMS has finally been able to be enjoyed in the west…just some 30 years late.
Why is VOTOMS Considered Military Sci-Fi?
At times, the label of military science fiction is loosely applied to a work to jazz it up or it is debated by the fan base, as the case is with Star Trek. However, it is amazing to read how many times the label of "military science fiction" is applied to the entire VOTOMS franchise by many sources. All of the titles, across all media types, are firmly rooted in military scenarios, military sci-fi tropes, and packed with service personnel, along with cool combat mecha. In addition, VOTOMS includes the cost of war on both society and the individual as we have seen with pilot Chirico.
The Impact and Legacy of VOTOMS
It did not take long during researching the subject of Armored Trooper VOTOMS that its impact and legacy are repeatedly praised in the genre of military sci-fi anime and mecha-centered anime. The majority of mecha in Japanese media were similar to metal giants like the Veritech, the RX-78-2 Gundam, and the prototype Combat Armor Dougram. However, the powered armor suits used in VOTOMS were only about four meters in height, did not tower over urban centers like the mechs from Battletech. Instead, they were on the ground and in the thick of battle, like normal infantry and the Scopedog APS were cranked out of factories like Ford Model Ts and were NOT customer one-off rare mecha, like the Dougram.
This set Armored Trooper VOTOMS apart automatically from the herd of giant-armed-robots-piloted-by-teenager trope populating anime and manga along with the main character. The adult Chirico is deeply affected by his actions during combat, he is haunted by the horrors of war, and he is in search of some sort of peace from his talent. This reintegration back to civilian..
Ever since humans left Africa, we began the process of exploring and colonizing this world. We altered the environments that we encountered to suit the needs and requirements of our species and in some ways, the altered environment shaped us as well. When high-altitude air travel become a reality, the developers of those planes bottled surface-like atmosphere to encompass the plane's crew and passengers. The same will be true with the deep spacecraft and space habitats of our future; they will also need a pressurized breathable air bubble in the deadly vast of nothingness.In such delicate environment it might be wise not to conduct any violent acts that might endanger the integrity of the bubble walls or taint the air with gunfire shootouts. But given that the dwellers of those bubbles are essentially the same apes who march out of Africa that ain't likely to happen. In this installment of the continuing Armory Series, we will be looking at Firearms and cartridges designed for such pressurized environments: the Pressurized Environments Firearms (PEF) Acknowledgment
Due to the fragment and multidisciplinary nature of the topic, the making of this article become a joint multi-national project involved researching and questing numerous individuals worldwide. From retired Sky Marshals to James Bond experts, all were drafted for the cause. With much gratitude, these are the peoples who made this article possible:
Retried Sky marshals- Stephen Rustad & Mordechai Rachamim.
Cartridge manufacturers: Jim Maltenieks president of American Ballistics (ABS)
Peter Pi, CEO of CorBon,
Cameron Hopkins, CEO of Super Vel
Cartridge collectors- Pete deCoux & Mel Carpenter
Weapon experts- Hrachya Hayrapet & Maxim Popenker
Mel Zaid- founder and former CEO of Technik Inc.
David Louis Buehn, CEO of Rough & Ready Inc.
John Edward Shields kin.
Jeff Wybo of James Bond Canada.
Grant Hutchison of Oikofuge for his Coriolis Effect trajectories' diagrams.
The Misconceptions of Firing inside a Pressurized Airliner or Spaceship The common conception of pressurized vessel hull breaching has been polluted by Hollywood “science” for decades resulting in numerous misconceptions regarding the vulnerability of aircraft or spaceship to gunfire onboard along with over-dramatized the outcomes of such bullets' holes.
The Integrity of the Hull Materials
First, it might be wise to remember that airliner or spaceship walls aren't much more than thin tinfoil. Terrifying as it maybe, all it takes is a few millimeters thick aluminum to be sufficient to hold sea level pressure gauge against outer-space hard vacuum or near vacuum of high altitude. But holding atmosphere in is only one of the properties aircraft or spaceship skins (or hulls) have. Both air or space vessels operate in an environment with extreme temperatures which need to be thermally isolated to maintain cozy room temperatures inside. Aircrafts hulls are also used to moderate the external noise while spaceships hulls have to shields the inhabitants against deadly radiation, both natural and from the ship nuclear engine (if exist).All of that means relatively thick external walls of our spaceship or space station. The wall's lining are likely serve as energy absorber in case a bullet breach the inner wall, similar to a Kevlar-like armor material. Not only may such filling stop a bullet before it pierces the outer shell, if the bullet manages to drill its way all through the lining material, then the lining usually will compresses between the inner and outer walls, due to its tendency to expand and thus, sealing the hole quite effectively.
The Minute long Hurricanes
One common trope of poplar media and Sci-Fi is that a breach in the hull will produce a mighty airflow that lifts people like tree leaves from whereabouts they were and throw them through the hole into the void. Such hurricane -like flow, as usually depicted, are long enough to have dramatic scenes where the protagonist/s have ample time to grab some static lifebuoy or each other and if the breach is an airlock door, enough time to climb against the air stream to push on the “close-the-airlock-now” button. However, the reality is very different…sorry, Hollywood. Any hole in the hull big enough to create an initial flow with initial velocity similar to a hurricane ought to be major explosive decompression. Given this, the room where the breach accrues, the unlucky inhabitants will be killed from violent acceleration before been thrown to space. Any hole big enough to create such airflow will decompressed the airplane or spaceship very quickly, as the pressure drops so does the airflow so a minutes-long howling stream is partially impossible.
Suction through a Bullet Hole Inspired by Mr. Bond’s remark about being sucked into outer space by or thrown through a bullet hole, it been a common misconception that the pressure gauge between the pressurized cabin to the near vacuum outside has enough force to squeeze human body out of this small hole. That misconception is manifested in the visual media with the following generic steps: an individual (usually the antagonist) is picked by the none-realistic flow and throw against the wall, plugging the hole, after a short moment of silence the unfortunate victim start to compressed and vented out through the small hole like a human toothpaste tube until the whole body drained out and the outer shell of the victim is blown out too. That is complete rubbish. The maximum pressure difference between the cabin and outdoor is 1 Atmosphere (ATM) which equal to 1 Kg force to each 1 square centimeter of hole or 14.7 pound force to each 1 square Inch of hole. Such low force can't possibly break the human body into a paste; human skin is fairly durable and elastic. There were many examples both planned experiments and accidents where humans and animals were subjected to full or partial vacuum exposure and they confirm that the skin can stretch and hold body interior without bursting. Several experiments done in the 1960's on dogs shown that even after the “guinea pigs” were subjected to rapid decompression to near vacuum conditions, those dogs die off quickly and their body were swell to approximately double their normal size without any damage to the skin. (Poor dogs!). It is safe to say that any bullet holes won't be sufficient enough to force to tear down human skin if placed to seal the hole. Unlike the American tale about the little Dutch boy who save his hometown of Harlem by plugging a leaking dike with his little finger, in the case of leaking spaceship that boy could actually close the hole using his bare finger without any risk to the boy or the finger! Such finger partially exposed the 3 Kelvin coldness of space will be rapid cooled down by thermal radiation. My back-of-the-envelop calculations show that the heat loss via radiation to the 3K of space is equal to -60°c / -76°f heat loss in still air so frostbites are due, hence - more serious measures are needed to fix the leak after the initial plugging.
Unrealistic Short time to Full Decompression
As with the hurricane force flows and the bone crashing suction, the time left to the inhabitants of a leaked craft is overly underestimate by popular media. Generally, symptoms of hypoxia will appear when the cabin pressure dropped to quarter of atmosphere. So, conservative calculations will mark that threshold as the minimum pressure allowed for estimating the time left for crew and passengers to take action to save their lives. It also important to understand that such time calculations are totally irrelevant to an airplane, only for a spaceship. Airplane isn't operate in a total vacuum and its life support system isn't close system. Airplanes are venting out air regularly through many small holes and cracks in the fuselage and the indoor pressure is controlled by outflow pressure valves. Fresh outside air is routinely compressed, cooled and filtered and introduce to the pressurized cabin onboard an aircraft. If a bullet hole or other holes punctures the hull, the plane's pressure control system simply closes one or more of the outflow pressure valves to compensate the added leak source to the already leaking cabin. Unless some major hole was formed, regular pressure control system can handle pretty much any gun spree aftermath.
Same isn’t true for spaceships; due to spacecraft carry their own air onboard in a form of either liquefied or high-pressure gas tanks (usually oxygen and nitrogen). As the case with airplanes, spaceship can't be totally 100% leak-proof. Some very slow leakage will be always presence and it the duty of the life support system to monitor and supplement those losses from those stored tanks. Now you might ask yourself what if the rate of those life support systems fill up the loses be enough to counter the air leakage cause due the some bullet hole, does the crew or passengers have ample time to patch the hole before run out of air?
Well, consider the worst case scenario that the life support system been damaged in the cross fire or deliberately, the time to fix the leakage is confined to the air reservoir in the cabin. A very simply equation of cabin decompressing assume a sonic flow (Mach 1) at the hole opening and isotherm (constant air temperature) will results for room temperature 21% oxygen-79% nitrogen mix and factor of four in air pressure drop the following solution: t(sec)=2*V(m^3)/A(M^2)Where t is the time that will takes to air pressure to drop to a quarter of initial pressure, V(m^3) the cabin volume and A(m^2) hole or holes combine cross area.
Example: the International Space Station (ISS) Pressurized volume is 931.5 m^3, if one of the Russian cosmonauts had been using their Makarov PM pistols that was carried up until 2008 in their Soyuz spacecraft to disable the life support system and then put a hole in the ISS wall, how much time the other crewmember have to plug the hole? A Makarov PM is chamber to 9x18mm Makarov round will leave 9mm circular hole of 0.000063585m^2. Craning the number in the equation to find it will take 29,299,363 seconds or 339 days. A far cry from an urgent problem as depicted in popular media.
Why Catastrophic Result of Airliner Indoor Shootout isn't a Catastrophe
Above are listed several reasons why gunfire onboard airplane or a spaceship won't result in catastrophic loss of the ship & crew and any passengers. But what if such a loss in on of itself isn't the worst possible outcome? In many of the cases of commercial airlines hijacking, the hijackers' goal was to divert the plane from its course towards a landing site sympathetic to their cause from where the hijackers could blackmail the government/s for the release and wellbeing of the passengers. A cold heart and cool headed decision could be made in advance by the government in charge for the safety of its people that a loss of an airplane along with its passengers is slightly better result of a hijacking attempt than a nation brought to its knees and comply with the hijackers' demands. A nation allowed or mandate an armed security guard (like the US Federal Air Marshals) onboard airliners or spaceliners chose to take such risk with the hope that their decision will act as a deterrent to future attempts as the would be future hijackers factor in the fact that their hostages lives won't shields them.
The stakes were raised even higher after the September 11th attacks when it became obvious that religious zealot hijacker motive might be substantially different than just release of his comrades from Asian Dawn Movement, New Provo Front, or the Liberte de Quebec of out of prison, more like convert the plane into a gigantic Kamikaze aim at heavily populated buildings. In such scenarios, it isn't the lives of the passengers' weight against national security, it is the lives of both the passengers and thousands of civilians on the ground that at stakes if the hijack attempt won't stop ASAP. After the September 11th terrorist attacks the dilemmas of onboard armed personal have been almost disappeared as the cost of failure at stopping a hijack outweigh the sum lives of crew and passengers.
Challenges and Options designing Pressurized Environments Firearms
It sounds odd to consider the option of not shooting as something weapon designers should factor in when sketching a new gun...but that isn't a wrong move at all. The purpose of a weapon, any weapon, isn't to kill per se but to impose the wielder will upon other. If that purpose was served without firing or even withdraw the gun from the holster then the gun severed its owner well. Thus, bestowing nearly all firearms the title of a “psychological weapon”. Douglas Adams, in his novel Restaurant at the End of the Universe, introduce such a gun, the "Kill-O-Zap" carried by Golgafrinchan ship's first officer. The features and appearance of the gun were explained: 'The designer was clearly not instructed to beat about the bush. “Make it evil,” they’ve been told. “Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sorts of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, this is a gun for going out and making people miserable with.”'.When consider scenarios where armed agents of the state are facing unarmed civilians and those arms aren't meant to be concealed it pay off to have those guns of intimidating and menacing as possible.
Not Missing the Target
Again, this is a no brainer. No one designs a gun to miss, but one should tune the design of the gun to be more suitable for fewer accurate shots rather than burst mode. In the densely packed spaces of airplane or spaceship, there is a heightened he danger of hitting bystanders. It is more desirable to have a gun with a small ammo capacity forcing the wielder to count any shot as it was the last. These questions were bedrock during the formation and training of the premier US Army Counter-terrorist unit, DELTA Force. One of the original operators, Eric L. Haney writes about the challenges of CT operations onboard aircraft in his excellent 2002 book Inside DELTA Force. He discussed that airplanes are “crammed with people” and even the founder of DELTA, Colonel Beckwith, said that terrorist-held airplane would be their toughest tactical environment.
The Unit would have to adapt (or train like you fight) to the special conditions of storming airliners packed with hostages and a few hijackers. The then handgun of DELTA back in the late 1970’s was an improved accuracy Colt M1911 .45 ACP and these original operators were trained to fire one round at a time during such engagements to maximize actually hitting the target not missing the target and creating a worst situation. Another option for today’s high-speed, high-tech door kickers is to mount fancy optics like red-dot and holo sights alike to increase hit probability of each shot.
Not Over-Penetrate the Target
Even after a precious shot hit the target, there is the danger of over-penetration. In this scenario, the projectile could exit the other side of the tango and further travel, sometime in different direction, and endangering the bystanders and the vehicle itself. A common solution is to use ammunition that deform, tumble or break inside of the target body and dissipate its kinetic energy completely without emerging out. Ammunition types such as hollow point, soft-nose, fragment etc. exist and use or used by various air and sky marshal programs and armed pilots worldwide. Citing again Eric L. Haney’s Inside DELTA Force book and Colonel Beckwith's own book on the CT unit he founded, the original operators of DELTA selected use of the .45 ACP round over 9mm due to lower velocity and less risk over-penetration back during the late 1970’s spin-up of the Unit.
However, very shortly, DELTA would adapt the 9x19mm H&K MP5 SMG for general CQC environments (which included airplanes) very much like the vast majority of Special Operations CT units at the time. While online firearm forums and videos are filled with people discussing the use of certain calibers for airplane engages, 9mm vs. .45 vs. 5.7mm vs. .357 SIG, we have to remember that the..
There are some mysteries that compel a global audience to seek out answers like if there really is a Bigfoot roaming around the darkforests of the world, or what lives in the murky depths of Loch Ness, or are there pyramids on Mars, or what really crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947? Mysteries like these have fueled countless TV programs, books, and internet entries. But, not all mysteries are as grandiose as the quest for proof of aliens visiting Earth. Some are small and personal, but no less compelling. In this latest installment of FWS, we will be attempt to explore and explain a mystery of my childhood...just what happened to the teased The Young Astronauts cartoon from 1985/1986?
The Mystery that is The Young Astronauts Cartoon
How I learned of this enigma of Saturday morning cartoons called The Young Astronauts back in 1985 was adverts in the pages of Marvel Comic books. These were blanketed through the comic book ad pages of the time and I was curious about what this new show coming on the CBS Saturday morning lineup was going to be about. The advertisement, along with other TV related publications, promised that the new lineup would be starting on September 14th, 1985. While some of these cartoons aired indeed on CBS in September of 1985, The Young Astronauts did not...and that was seemingly that. Given the time period, there was no internet, as we understand it today, to ask just what the frak happened to this space-themed Saturday morning cartoon series on internet forums. This question was not just limited to the cartoon. Marvel also had plans to roll out a complimentary young-orientated comic under the same title under their "Star Comics" kiddie comic imprint much as they had done with Droids, Inhumanoids, and Silverhawks. Once again, there was press about this incoming title via official Marvel Comics News Magazine called Marvel Age. In issue number 37 that was printed in April of 1986, there was a two page spread, from pages 13-14; we got the most detailed information on The Young Astronauts comic and cartoon. There was much smoke about The Young Astronauts brand, but as 1986 dragged on, no fire caught...and then it all ended with seemingly nothing said about these cancellations. So, what the hell was The Young Astronauts cartoon and what the hell happened to it?
The Plot and Setting of The Young Astronauts
The Young Astronauts name represents several entities all housed under a single banner to promote young people of the mid-1980's to seek out a future in science, space exploration, and science-related fields of study that had been established by the Reagan Administration in 1984. According to court documents, there were two arms to the Young Astronauts organization: the Council and the Young Astronaut Management Corporation. The Council or “YAC” was a non-profit charged with the “objective of encouraging American children to study math and science by using the United States space program as a catalyst.” The other, the YAMC, was a for-profit organization that was charged with providing funding streams for YAC, like the business deal with Marvel Productions. With the aim of getting kids excited about the newly invigorated manned space program via the NASA Space Shuttles, the newly established Young Astronaut Council attempted to reach 1980's youth via the then-current means: comics, Saturday morning cartoons, and models. The spearhead was to be the Toei Animation Saturday morning cartoon and the accompanying Star Comics series that was under the direction of Marvel Production with the YAC having input. Yes, you read correctly. None other than the hallowed Toei Animation studio of Japan was going to be the animators for The Young Astronauts cartoon.
While nothing survives of the cartoon, save for one single cel of animation, we do have some press on the Star Comics series that informs on the TV cartoon as well. In the Marvel Age article from 1986, we learned that The Young Astronauts is set in the 21st century onboard the Terran transport starship Courageous captained by Kelly Hampton with her husband Jason, three kids (Wendy, Mikey, and Rick), a robot named Retro, and the cat Rascal being the main characters. At some point during each episode of The Young Astronauts, there would have an “Astro Minute” in which some element of real science would have been explained by possibility an former or current astronaut in live-action format. In the Marvel Age article, series head, Danny O'Neil describes the first issue showing the kids living on the Courageous and getting into trouble when the cat, Rascal, takes off an one of the shuttle craft of the Courageous. The kids decide to rescue the cat while avoiding their parents...and the misadventure starts there. One interesting note about the comic series was June Brigman was going to draw the comic. Back at this time, June Brigman had helped establish the look of the youth-aimed Marvel superhero comic of Power Pack. This was one my favorite comics of that time and the only "superhero" comic I collected. That this is only part of the storyline that we have and nothing else has come to light since for either the comic series of the CBS cartoon.
The Historical Context of The Young Astronauts
Space exploration has been used by governments to excite and propel students to reach for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It was this way after the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and while the trend died during the lackluster NASA manned space program in the 1970's, it roared back to life in the 1980's. With the Cold War at another apex and the computer revolution underway, the Reagan Administrative used this public engagement to create the Young Astronauts Council in 1984. If you were a kid like me in the 1980's that was excited about the prospect of becoming an astronaut, you were living in a great time. It seemed that everyone was jumping on the train of space exploration and advanced technology....hell, even Tom Swift had a space-centered sci-fi series of books that I read back in the 1980's! My school library had all manner of books on space exploration, the Space Shuttle, and the incoming technological revolution. Every where you seemed to turn at this point, and you would see high-tech items like robots at Radio Shack, Photon centers, personal computers. Hell, I was ready for the future to get here!
Also keeping the flames burning were publications like Odyssey magazine for kids about space exploration, technology, astronomy and the adventures of the Ulysses 4-11 robot along with the TV program Beyond 2000. Not to mention the real-life Space Camp founded in 1982 in Alabama along with the completely misguided SpaceCamp movie from 1986.Everything at the time appeared to be pointing to the success of the Marvel Productions venture into generating excitement about outer space via the Young Astronauts emerging franchise…then came January 28th, 1986.
The Marvel Productionsand the Young Astronauts Council Connection
When it comes to the motive for the cartoon never airing and the Star Comics series being shelved, it lays with the complex and tense relationship between Marvel Productions and the YAC/YAMC. Marvel Productions and the YAC entered into two contracts in 1984 for Marvel Productions to be the exclusive representative for deals concerning licensing of the YAC brand and mission along with Marvel to create a cartoon and comic based around the YAC mission statement. Proof of this relationship could be seen early on when Marvel created these wonderful in-comic full page ads for the Young Astronauts Council featuring Captain America and were widely seen in comic books in 1985 through 1986. It was also around this time that the ads for the incoming cartoon series on CBS started to run, promising a fall of 1985 premier. In addition, Marvel was teasing the Star Comics title in comic ads, comic publishing schedules, and interviews in Marvel Age. By March of 1986, YAC wanted to terminate the contract with Marvel Productions and this was made official on June 30th, 1986. This was not the end of the story; Marvel Productions filed a lawsuit against YAC in July of 1988 that ended in a judgement on August 1st, 1990 by the US District Court of New York.
What Happened to The Young Astronauts?
The majority of online articles concerning the fate of the stillborn Young Astronauts CBS cartoon and the Star Comics series rest it solely on the 1986 Challenger Disaster. While it is true that part of the reasons does indeed rest with the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger some 73 seconds after liftoff and the loss of the ship & crew, it is only part of the story. Marvel Productions and YAC did not see eye-to-eye on the aim of the cartoon/comic series. YAC wanted it to be scientifically accurate as possible, while CBS/Marvel wanted an exciting space kiddie show with the backing of NASA. While the show was slated for the fall of 1985 for its premier and the beginning run of the original 13 episodes on order, the conflict between YAC and CBS/Marvel differing points-of-view delayed the development of the show itself for the reminder of 1985.
This caused CBS to postpone The Young Astronauts until a meeting could be held to refocus with CBS who had stating that a scientifically accurate show would be dull for the intended audience. Given the loss of inertia and the market campaign that had promised the cartoon incoming by Fall of ’85, YAC decided to grant CBS the freedom to make the show they wanted and get the ball rolling. That meeting between Marvel, the YAC, and CBS was held on January 27th, 1986. The next morning, the Challenger spacecraft explodes, killing all seven heroes onboard and calls into question the future of NASA’s manned space flight mission. The next day, according to court documents, CBS called the YAC and Marvel, and formally canceled the cartoon project. But was that the fate of the Star Comics series as well?
During the FWS investigation, the dates simply did not match up. In the Marvel vs. Young Astronauts Council lawsuit documents from the summer of 1990, the dates are crystal clear. The article in issue#37 of Marvel Age that came out in April of 1986, the project was still moving forward with the Star Comics series. Some of the adverts for the comic series tied it to the “hit television series”, and one of these adverts ran in the 38th issue of Marvel Age that came out in May of 1986!
This was after YAC had asked to end their relationship with Marvel some two prior and one month before it became official in June of ’86. Given the historical context of the time period, it is likely that we are talking a month delay between when the Marvel Age magazine was in production and when it was seen on the newsstands. Still, you think that Marvel would have pulled the ads for the Young Astronauts comics give that YAC had asked to end the contract. Maybe Marvel leadership had hopes that they could move forward with the comic book project? Even after the contract was terminated in June 30th of 1986 that was not the end of the story…Marvel would sue YAC to recover payments in July of 1988. Marvel would learn that YAMC may have been double dealing behind the backs of Marvel and their contract.
In the court papers, Marvel wanted their share of deals that YAMC had made with Pepsi, Coleco, and McDonald’s. Hundreds of Thousands of dollars have been generated via the “deals” made with these three companies during the time that Marvel Productions still had their contract in place. All three of the deals bore fruit in one way or another. Pepsi via their deal that was signed on July 9th, 1985 got a can of their inferior cola on a Challenger shuttle launch, McDonald’s had Young Astronauts branded Happy Meals in October of 1986, and Coleco had signed a contract with YAMC on July 1st, 1986 that included $275,000 advance. This is one day after the end of the Marvel contract. This contract smelled to the legal department of Marvel and it was likely that YAMC had been talks with Coleco prior to the end of the Marvel contract.
That contract between the YAC and Coleco in summer of 1986 was realized with the STARCOM: The US Space Force cartoon and toyline that featured the YAC logos and mission. This is the only piece of a Young Astronaut cartoon that ever aired. Finally, the court case was settled by District Judge of New York Robert L. Carter on August 1st, 1990 with the ruling in favor of Marvel for YAC to pay the comic book company $185,547.40 in back licensing fees for the YAC deals with Pepsi, Coleco, and McDonald’s. The Surviving Pieces of the Young Astronauts/Marvel Project
For many of us that were alive and aware of the Young Astronauts cartoon and comic book, we’ve wondered if anything survived from the failed project. For most of us, the only thing we saw of the proposed show was that little advertisement image of the boy in a spacesuit drifting out near Luna with a robot companion. Some read the Marvel Age article from April of 1986, and it is believed that some may have even seen a pilot for the show...if the rumors are true. We know that art and possible a full first issue of The Young Astronauts comic was mocked up, but never released. The open page of the comic was released in the Marvel Age #37 article along with draws of several of the characters. This is the most complete picture of the show that we have to date. In addition to that, there was a one-page announcement in some Marvel comics of the Star Comics (version or adaptation?) of the Young Astronauts cartoon series that is the only released image of the Courageous transport starship, and the main characters. It should be noted that the art for the Star Comics ad does not seem to match the art style of June Brigman. These comics and scan of them survive to this day. A signed full page splash of the first page of Young Astronauts #1 is currently up for sale on comicartfans.com for $50. This is only piece of the comic that features the characters' dialog and the full credits. In the court papers from the 1990 judgement allowed us to determine the progress of the cartoon. It seems that the lawyers for Marvel Productions informed the court hat Marvel had paid $1.2 million towards the production of the cartoon in which included scripts, the series “bible”, storyboards, and some production (which included animation) had begun on the first episode prior to the January of 1986 CBS termination of the cartoon.
The only surviving element of Toei Animation studios work on the series was a single animation cel that is in the hands of private animation collector who presumed that it came from the aborted series. At present, it is the only piece of the work that Toei Animation did on the cartoon that has come to light. Oddly, the spacesuit equipped lad in the cel does not resemble any of the main characters seen in the Star Comics teaser or article. One unconfirmed piece of information came from a comment on a blogpost about the cartoon, who stated that the pilot episode was indeed finished and was screened. The most outlandish claim of this person is that the pilot episode was actually air on CBS. I doubt this person honestly. They gave an outline of the basic plot which was not similar at all to the outline given in Marvel Age#37 and while I could believe that some portion of the pilot was finished and put onto VHS and screened to CBS/Marvel personnel, there is simply no way it was completely finished and aired on TV in 1986. There is no proof or evidence of this. Thinking there maybe something to this, I dug into some archives and found nothing to it.
Another surviving piece of the Young Astronauts franchise was the model kits issued by Monogram along with adverts in noted publications of the day, like Boys' Life of a 1986 contest associated with NASA/YAC. Anyone familiar with modelling knows about Monogram and they had partnered up with YAC and presumably, Marvel Productions, to put an extensive line of space-themed model kits that may have numbered greater than a dozen. The vast majority were centered on actual historical space vehicles. However, Monogram did import a few space-themed kits from Japanese model kit marker Hasegawa's space war theme "Operation Omega" series. One that came to my attention was a Lunar hopper vehicle with an Space Shuttle mounted to its back. This very kit was sold under the Young Astronauts brand being called the "Eagle Lunar Lander". It seems that Hasegawa will be reissuing this kit very soon.
The Young Astronauts Today
With Generation X taking to the internet to locate and rediscover historical elements of their rich childhood of the 1980’s, the mystery of The Young Astronauts made it into various sites over the years. Most of the articles are only a few lines or a brief mention. While all of the information is there on the internet, few sites have put the entire narrative together, but what greatly helped the investigation of The Young Astronauts was the scanning of old..
On of the missions of Future War Stories to be a place where not just the popular elements of the genre are given a seat at the table, but also the forgotten and the lost. Military science fiction is packed with manner of lost stories that are not confided to just one type of media. Over the course of the last nearly two years, FWS has been hard at work cataloging a range of forgotten military science fiction video games. Some are lost classics, some "meh", and some are best left in the past...but nevertheless, they deserve a place and here they will be. This is the 4th installment and they will be a total of 10.
1. Power Slave (Lobotomy 1996)
You could be forgiven if you thought we were talking about the Iron Maiden album, but Power Slave (Exhumed in Europe) is at first glance a DOOM clone…but it is much more. Appearing on MS-DOS machines and the failed Sega Saturn console in 1996, it would be ported over to the original PlayStation in 1997. This is a solid shooter with you going up against all manner of ancient Egyptian themed enemies in the ruins of Karnak. Some believe that Lobotomy Software was inspirited by the 1994 film Stargate.
In this first person shooter, you use human and Kilmaat ET weaponry to battle for control of King Ramese’s mummy that could be used by the aliens to take control over Earth. While some may write this game off as a simple DOOM clone, but Power Slave was something better than that like Strife. Interestingly enough, the Saturn, PSOne, and MS-DOS all had difference versions with different gaming mechanics and endings. What was this shooter forgotten? It is better remembered in Europe than the US, but it poor sales performance in the States is partly it is due to the crowed DOOM clone shooter market at the time. Given the current culture of resurrecting old games for review and/or modern graphical upgrades; Power Slave been dug up and reviewed allowing for many of us to discover a DOOM clone that is anything but typical and was a unique title during this era. 2. Krazy Ivan (Psygnosis 1996)
Back in the early days of the original PlayStation, all manner of titles were unleashed on us and it was good times for we were spoiled by choice. One game I saw often at my local Dallas BlockBuster was this title and I avoided it. For some reason, despite being a mech combat game, I just never was into this game. This game is a mecha-based shooter with you, a Russian soldier, taking the helm of a mech to defend the Earth from invading alien robots. Tongue-in-cheek, FMV sequences, and not bad overall, Krazy Ivan was lost in the sea of much better game at the time. It was only released on the original PlayStation here in the States, and the announced SEGA Saturn port was not imported to the US. It was a good thing, too. The reviews of the Saturn were terrible.
3. Knife Edge Nose Gunner (KEMCO 1998)
First Person POV futuristic flight simulators are not uncommon in the history of video games, even on home consoles. One of the core consoles of the 5th generation, the N64, was the only system to receive a very interesting flight shooter that allowed you to be the gunner on a endoatmospheric gunship vehicle called “the Knife Edge” while doing battle on a colonized Mars against aliens. Developed by Japanese game company Kemco (which is still around) in 1998 and takes some influence likely from Star Fox and Descent. Unlike many other spacecraft shooters, Nose Gunner has the player only controlling the weaponry of the gunship and according the game, the gunship is controlled via a computer. Odd. While interesting and one of the bestselling systems of the 5th generation, it not garner good reviews and was largely forgotten to other much better N64 spacecraft shooters. 4. Iron Storm (4x Studios 2002)
In 2002, the French 4X Studios would release a PC game that attempted to show an alternate history where World War One never ended and dragged on for fifty years. The game picked up in 1964 when one faction in the world war was developing nuclear weapons and it is up to the player to locate and sabotage the weapons program. The combat was a marriage of familiar WWI concepts and tactics with mixing in 1960’s technology as well. It was a basic shooter that received some good reviews and garnered fans, but it never achieved liftoff when compared to other shooters at the time despite the cool setting. I was never that impressed with the actual mechanics and it quickly bored me. The game has an interesting release history. It would release for Windows machines in 2002 with later releases coming onto the PS2 console as an updated game called Iron Storm: World War Zero in 2004 and 2005 by Rebellion Developments. There was to be a sequel, but it never materialized and portions of the work and some of the same staff were thrown into the spiritual sequel called “Bet on Soldier: Blood Sport”.
5. Battlestar Galactica (VU Games 2003)
There has been talk of resurrecting the 1978 TV series Glen A. Larson Battlestar Galactica for some time with Richard Hatch leading the charge with his own money. In the late 1990s, there was seriously talk of reviving the series via either Richard Hatch’s second coming project or the Battlestar Pegasus project with Glen A. Larson and Todd Moyer. In 2000, the most serious attempt was helmed by Bryan Singer and Tom DeSanto for new mini-series set in the classic universe some 25 years after the original series. This attempt was serious and pre-production was undertaken…then the terrorist attacks of September 11th happened and Singer dropped out.
Then in 2002, the leadership at Universal/Sci-Fi Channel ordered a rebooted mini-series rather than a continuation of the original 1978 universe with the new project under the leadership Star Trek alum Ronald D. Moore and David Eick. On December 8th, 2003 the first episode of the four-part mini-series aired to massive numbers and praise…and the rest is TV history. Just before the mini-series came an oddball space shooter game on the PS2 and Xbox under the name “Battlestar Galactica”. While basically forgotten today by the larger gaming public, the 2003 BSG game was developed by UK developer Warthog Games and Universal Interactive as their swan song, and it is sort of a mash-up between several BSG projects.
According to the game itself, the game is set during the Cylon War and as William Adama as a Viper pilot onboard the Galactica. While some sources claim that this game takes place before the 2003 rebooted series that is untrue. Elements from the classic 1978 series, the abandoned Singer project (seen in the design of the Cylon Centurions), along with the new mini-series were all blended into this game. This makes the 2003 game only related onto itself. I can remember this game being reviewed in a gaming magazine I got back in the day and the review was very meh…and that is one reason why it is now largely forgotten. Another reason could be that the game came out a month before the new mini-series and the audience for BSG was limited. This game was eclipsed by later strategy games that are set in the proper rebooted BSG universe.
6.Ghen Wars (Jumpin' Jack Studios 1995)
SEGA always seemed to be in the shadow of Nintendo when it came to home console gaming systems. That was the case for the majority of SEGA’s existence with the balance in power altering with the release of Genesis/Mega-Drive gaming system. For that generation alone, SEGA beat the mighty Nintendo…but it would not last. On the heels of the aging Genesis was SEGA next system, the 32 bit Saturn. This was to battle with the PlayStation, the 3DO, the “64 bit” ATARI Jaguer, and the SNES. While we all know that the Sony PlayStation was the dominate console in the 5th generation wars, it was really it was the battle that SEGA had to win…but lost. The inertia of the popularity of the Genesis/Mega-Drive had to be maintained via a new console, but the Saturn was not the system to accomplish that mission. It lacked 3rd party support, it was overpriced, and too complex, along with the marketing campaign was not able to compete with the Sony PlayStation. While the Saturn was launched in 1994, it would not last has long as the home system it replaced. By 1997, SEGA America was laying off employees and the path was being prepared for the last gasp of the SEGA console market: the Dreamcast. During the NEXUS-6 like lifespan of Saturn, it is amazing that 600 games were released for the system, including this forgotten military SF game: Ghen Wars. Descent, Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, and Tunnel B1 were similar was that were also on the much more successful PlayStation.
Originally published in summer of 1995, Ghen Wars is one of the earlier games in the Saturn library and is a first-person mecha combat game. Developed by Jumpin’ Jack Studios that folded shortly after Ghen Wars was released, this FPS game was centered on off-world warfare on the planets within the solar system with the hero using an exo-suit to defeat the Ghen alien race. At the time, the game was praised for somewhat destructible environments, upgradeable weapons, many locations, and multi-path endings. However, the game was generally accepts as just okay and similar to other games at the time that also included FMV scenes. Why this game became forgotten was its inclusion on the SEGA Saturn and being similar to other games at the time, like Descent, but it was not as good as that vehicle-FPS. The difference for games like
7. Zero Tolerance (TechnoPop 1994) Throughout the 1990’s, the video game industry and its fandom were dominated by the aftermath of the release of DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D. For years, there was a bumper crop of FPS games for us fans of shooters across all consoles and computer systems. On the very successful SEGA Genesis/Mega-Drive, there were three exclusive shooters, and one of them was Zero Tolerance. Developed by Technopop and released in 1994, it was military sci-fi corridor shooter taking place on three separate environments. The game was set in the future when humanity was establishing off-world colonies in other star systems when aliens attack the Terran flagship, causing the elite space commando force, Zero Tolerance, to board the flagship and investigate the situations.
Praised at the time and gained enough success to have a sequel in development, it was still on a console that had much success then faded along with the game company that developed it by the time of the PlayStation invasion. After watching some videos on the gameplay, it is a rather pretty shooter that appears to be a hard game with lackluster weaponry and players that stay dead once they are killed in the game. It is after the release of the original game that the story becomes much more interesting. There was a planned sequel called Beyond Zero Tolerance by the same studio and its story was to have the Terran space commandos travel to the alien homeworld to end the threat once and for all, but it was not released despite being nearly finished. According the information I found, the game was quite similar and was being worked on by Technopop in 1995 and the game was slated to be released on the Genesis/Mega-Drive and the 32X maybe in 1996(?). However, it was ended due to the winding down of the hardware in favor of the Saturn. Today, the ROM is available for download in its still unfinished state. Much later on in 2005, Tomb Raider publisher Eidos was eyeballing resurrecting the Zero Tolerance franchise for the PS2 and original Xbox. Eidos was going remaster the original 1994 game for the PSP system and put out a new game called “Zero Tolerance: City under Fire”. However, after legal trouble, the Zero Tolerance connection was dropped and the work on the game later came out on as the rather middle-of-the-road 2006 Urban Chaos: Riot Response.
8. Star Trek: Shattered Universe (TDK 2004)
Many Trekkies know that the Mirror Universe episodes and storylines are some of the finest in the Trek…and it seems a no-brainer for a video game to be set in the Mirror Universe. That seems like a solid concept until you experience a game like TDK’s Shattered Universe from 2004. The story has the Excelsior under the command of Sulu traveling into the Mirror Universe could have really worked, given the power and advanced nature of the Excelsior class battlecruiser. However, Starsphere Interactive screwed it up by included an ISS Excelsior as well.
This concept was somewhat explored in the original DC Comics Mirror Universe storyline in issue #09-16. While you may think that this game would be about you taking control of the USS Excelsior battling the forces of the Empire, but you actually take control of a Federation fighter and do battle with the forces of the alternative universe while trying to protect the Excelsior and find a way home. With poor reviews and having a space fighter-based game in the Trek universe all added up to this one being quickly forgotten. 9. Renegade Legion (SSI 1990)
With the popularity of Star Wars and D&D, the 1980’s were a fertile time period for table simulation games and RPGs, with all manner of companies spring up to fill any void they could with a vast array of games. A majority of these games were some form of military science fiction and some went on to become long remembered…and some did not. One of those companies that arose to popularity in the 1980’s was Chicago-based FASA. Having the license for Star Trek and Doctor Who made them a force on the RPG scene; however, it was Battletech that made them unique. In that inventory of games and licenses was Renegade Legion, a military sci-fi hex-based wargame about a war in the Milky Way in the 69th century. Starting off as a space fighter combat game called Interceptor, Renegade Legion took a different than FASA titan title Battletech. That premier title started off with a hex-based ground combat with Mecha and then expand into fighter and ship combat games, books, an RPG, then computer games. Renegade Legion would follow a similar path with ever expanding titles, books, an RPG, and then two computer games at the end of its lifespan. Again, very similar to the path of FASA’s Battletech. And why not?
The formula for Battletech had been extremely successful, why could it not happen with Renegade Legion? FWS will cover this forgotten classic of 1980;s MSF RPGs at a later date (hint!), but for now we need to examine the two computer games associated with RL. Given that RL started in the realm of space fighter combat with Interceptor, it seemed like a good place to start with the computer games. One of the features of Interceptor was a system to catalog the damage done to your space fighter that this pen-and-paper feature as carried over to the first computer game from and developed by Strategic Simulations and released in 1990 for DOS machines.Let us be honest here, Interceptor is a difficult game that has more in common with the tabletop warfare game than a space-sim.
Given it is complex and plotting nature caused Interceptor to be less engaging and ultimate forgotten when such classic space combat simulation games like X-Wing and Wing Commander came out. SSI sensed the way the wind was blowing and in 1995, Midnight Software would created an very similar MS-DOS space combat sim for the FASA created for the 67th century Renegade Legion universe: Renegade: The Battle for Jacob's Star. Unlike other games at the time, there was no FMV sequences. While this was a step in the right direction, it was no Wing Commander. However, it sold well enough to earn work on a sequel: Renegade II: Return to Jacob's Star. This was never completed and by this time, the franchise was sold off from FASA.
10. Bethesda Softworks Terminator Series (Bethesda 1990-1996)
The Terminator franchise has seemingly always had good relationship with the video game industry, and many of us know the arcade..
Every saga has a beginning that is in the background, hinting at events that echo in the characters and setting we know. We have seen this with the Clone Wars, the Bulterian Jihad, the Silmarillion, and the 1st Cylon War. If done properly, prequel stories allows to get to know a familiar world and character in a new light, adding to the richness of the original work…and then other times, not so much. One of the key landmark anime series in the United States is Harmony Gold’s ROBOTECH and it too, had echoes of a grand previous story. Many fans of ROBOTECH, like me, wanted to know about whom the original Zor was and the origin story of his super dimensional fortress that crashed landed on an unpopulated island called Macross in 1999. We original fans of ROBOTECH did not have to wait long because in August of 1986, Comico Comics published that very story in their ROBOTECH Graphic Novel. In this installment of Forgotten Classics, we will be opening the pages of this lost chapter of ROBOTECH history.
What is the ROBOTECH: Graphic Novel?
Published in the late summer of 1986 by Comico Comics, holder of the ROBOTECH comic license, this 48 page oversized 10x8inch softcover book sold for a cover price of $5.95 ($13.63 today) and was a prequel to the ROBOTECH TV series, but not to its progenitor Super Dimension Macross. Ten years prior to the first episode of ROBOTECH “Booby Trap”, two worlds collided when an alien battle fortress crashed on a unpopulated island in the South Pacific. This came at a terrible time in the history of the human race. Across the face of Earth, various factions and nations fought in the so-called “Global Civil War” and with the outbreak of tactical nuclear weapons in the Middle East and poison gas in Asia, some of the leaders of the Western Alliance of the old United States were growing deeply considered that things were about to get grimmer. Thousands of lightyears away, another war was waging that would soon engulf Terra that was caused by a flower…the Invid Flower of Life. This powerful plant was a “gift” from the Invid Regis to a young Tirolian explorer/scientist named Zor after a romantic Captain Kirk style cultural exchange.
Within that plant was the science of Robotechology and power generation, causing a technological and society wide revolution on Tirol. Zor would become the First Robotech Master…but his “gift” soon caused a bitter between Tirol and the Invid. In the open of the graphic novel, Zor is at odds with his Zentraedi guards over Zor ignoring the orders of the Masters and the requests of the Zentraedi about seeding other worlds with the Flower of Life. He considered the Flower of Life a gift that could liberate new civilizations from the quest of energy. During on these seeding operations, Zor waits too long and his heavily armed vessel is attacked by the Invid. It is here that Zor sends the battle fortress to a world that could use the power of the Invid flower: Terra. For much of the graphic novel, we are introduced to Roy Fokker, Captain Gloval, Rick Hunter, and Dr. Lang. It is here that we see some of the Global Civil War and Roy Fokker, based on the aircraft carrier Kenosha, battling mercenary pilot T.R. Edwards over the skies of the Western Alliance. After the crash, that briefly halted the Global Civil War, the Western Alliance Carrier Kenosha is sent to investigate the crashed massive alien vehicle. It is here that the graphic novel via some familiar characters, explores the SDF-1 in its original Tirolian state. Some very cool moments during that exploration and the graphic novel would led us up to the ever beginning of the first episode of ROBOTECH, beautifully tying it all together in a neat pretty bow.
Why is the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel considered a “Forgotten Classic?”
While I’ll firmly believe that the 1986 ROBOTECH Graphic Novel is a great original ROBOTECH story that fulfilled the promise of showing the origins of the SDF-1 and Zor. For me, that deems it a classic due to the business of prequels are a tricky game to get right…just ask George Lucas. That being said, I felt at the time and even now, that the Comico 1986 graphic novel was the true (canon) story of how Zor’s battlefortress came to Terra and altered the history of the entire galaxy. But why was it forgotten if it was just a proper story that blended with the TV series?
Some graphic novels have endurance like the Dark Knight, the Watchmen, Maus,and Persepolis…then there are other titles that have their moment and fade away. As I said above, Harmony Gold was attempting to forge an empire with the Sentients and "the movie", but those did not happen, and Harmony Gold could not extend the success of ROBOTECH much beyond 1988-1989. While it reran on the Sci-Fi Channel back in 1993 and there were comic books, ROBOTECH was on life support for over a decade. While ROBOTECH itself is legendary, the comic books are not given that status due to the fact they adaptations of the original series or just mostly terrible as we saw with Malibu/Eternity titles. It also did not help that Eternity comics came out with a ROBOTECH genesis limited-series in 1992 around how Zor sweet-talked the Flower of Life away from the Invid Regis. These were nowhere near as good as the Comico graphic novel, but confused and deluded the original “Genesis” title. Today, a first edition ROBOTECH Graphic Novel is sold online for about $12.
The Historical Context of the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel
FWS discusses the 1980’s quite a bit due to the 80’s being totally awesome and because it was a key time-period in sci-fi history. Normally, when FWS covers the historical context of a certain work and why things did not work out, it’s because of bad timing…but that is not the case with the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel in 1986. When Comico released the impressive graphic novel, it was at the apex of the popularity of ROBOTECH given that it was liberally running across the nation in most TV markets. Not only was a hit in most TV markets with the intended audience, like ten-year old me, but Harmony Gold was attempting to expand the ROBOTECH band with various related products as seen with the DEL REY books, the Art books, the Comico comics, Matchbox toys, model kits, and the RPG by Palladium Books.
In addition to various merchandising lines, Harmony Gold was attempting to establish an empire with ROBOTECH with a sequel that featured original animation and a re-dubbed of Megazone 23 as the “ROBOTECH Movie”. These failed ventures stand today as the remnants of the aborted Harmony Gold imperial dream. But, at the time of the graphic novel’s release, the sun still had not set on ROBOTECH or Harmony Gold’s dreams. Besides the world of animation, the 1980’s were a time of great change in the realm of comic books. During this time, newer smaller press comic book companies like Dark Horse, First Comics, Comico, and Now Comics were battling for a place in the sun alongside the Big Two. It was during this time as well that the graphic novel became a popular form of comic that had special meaning to us collectors. Graphic novels represented something special, something outside of the normal comic book titles and/or storylines. Established titles and companies dove into the graphic novel trend with Batman: Dark Knight, Batman: Digital Justice, Ironman Crash, and Alien Legion: A Grey Day to Die. These smaller press published would use the more mature format of the graphic novel to release some great titles and ideas along with creating buzz. That is why when Comico began teasing the graphic novel that we fans of ROBOTECH began to wonder what Comico had up their sleeves.
The ROBOTECH Graphic Novel and Sentients Connection
When it was clear that ROBOTECH was going to be a big hit on the airwaves and with merchandising deals, Harmony Gold decided to move forward with two projects envisioned by Carl Macek: a feature length film and the TV series sequel. Much like the original saga, the ROBOTECH movie was cobbled from Megazone 23 and aired in the DFW Metroplex theaters around July 23rd 1986 . It would bomb and Harmony Gold put the rest of their eggs into the basket of the Sentients TV series sequel that would be original animation. These plans were in high gear in 1986 and these projects were mentioned in the first page of the Comico graphic novel.
Given the masterplan under the helm of Carl Macek, he was able to insert the seeds of the Sentients into the ROBOTECH Genesis graphic novel with Colonel TR Edwards. While the characters was altered during the Sentients initial development, he was presented in the pages of the 1986 graphic novel as TR Edwards. This skilled mercenary pilot was a key character in the graphic novel and would also be in the incoming Sentients TV shows as a real scumbag of the REF. For us original ROBOTECH fans, this was our introduction to TR Edwards. It was a pity that the character was just terribly done in the released Sentients episodes.
Where Else Have We Seen this Concept of the ROBOTECH Backstory? There are two other titles that also mined the same subject of the backstory to the SDF-1 crashing onto Macross Island during the Global Civil War: Eternity Comics’ “Robotech Genesis: The Legend of Zor” from 1992 and the DEL REY book “Robotech Genesis” by Jack McKinney published in 1987. Due to the planned connection between the Jack McKinney books and the TV series by Harmony Gold, they align more closely than did the later telling of the backstory to the science of robotechnology presented in the Genesis graphic novel due to the 1986 Comico graphic novel being serialized into the pages of McKinny’s 1987 nvoel of the same name. However that fateful alignment does not apply to the Eternity Comics title. I am not a big fan of Eternity Comics’ handling of the ROBOTECH license and I think that they published real shit that degraded the remains of the collapsing ROBOTECH empire.
What was the Impact and Legacy of the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel?
It is often difficult to track down the success or failure of an old comic during the Dark Ages prior to the internet. I firmly believe that the ROBOTECH graphic novel sold well given that there were two prints issued by Comico. The first printing was in August of 1986 (when I bought it) and the second in December of 1986. At the time, I had to preorder the graphic novel to be on a “guaranteed list” that my brother and I would be getting a copy and I remember how popular the guys at Starbase 21 in Tulsa thought of the ROBOTECH graphic novel was going to be. That or they just could have been after my hard earned allowance. Everyone I knew that was into ROBOTECH, had a copy of the graphic novel, but like many comic book fads and tie-ins…it fell into obscurity. For better or worse, the ROBOTECH graphic novel was still a product of its time and while ROBOTECH comic titles were continuously pumped out by other published until this very day, the graphic novel was largely forgotten. Partly this is due to Eternity Comics published a very similar storyline in 1992 with their ROBOTECH Genesis: The Legend of Zor limited series. Falling into obscurity is true of a great number of comic titles and does not reflected how good or how bad a comic title is. Few comic titles endure like the comic titans of X-Men, Superman, or even Archie. They have their time in the sun and then lights fade out. However, the darkness ended for the ROBOTECH comics came on March of 2003, when DC Comics reprinted the classic Comico ROBOTECH comics. along with the graphic novel. In the first volume, which included #1-6 in a trade paperback volume, the 1986 graphic novel was included. This was done again in May of 2018 by the current holder of the license, Titan Comics, with the “ROBOTECH Archives”. The first volume of ROBOTECH Archives: Macross Saga included the first 11 issues of the Comico comic series as well as the graphic novel. Reading comments about these reprints, many commentators mention the inclusion of the ROBOTECH Genesis graphic novel being a big positive. This shows us some of the legacy of the graphic novel.
My Experience with the ROBOTECH Graphic Novel Many of you know that started watching anime during the 2nd Wave of Anime into America during the 1970’s with Battle of the Planets and Starblazers that aired on a local Dallas TV station when I was three. While as a fan of Starblazers, everything was transformed when ROBOTECH aired on a local Tulsa TV station in 1985. After seeing my first episode “Blue Wind”, the 13th episode of the Macross Saga, my life was altered in a profound way. I was singularly obsessed by ROBOTECH, Mecha, and Military SF for the next several years and forever would it dominate my path. During this time, my allowance was committed to buying everything and anything ROBOTECH/anime related.
At some point in 1985, I was made aware of an incoming graphic novel from Comico…likely from the Comico ROBOTECH comic series, and my brother and I reserved our copies from Starbase 21(at their old location next to Casa Bonita). I read this over and over again when we picked up and it shaped how I view the larger ROBOTECH story. For me, the Comico ROBOTECH Genesis Graphic Novel was gossip and it was the canonized backstory to the events of the entire ROBOTECH saga. I still regard this as the backstory and I think it is one of the best original ROBOTECH stories.
On December 14, 1984 one of the most ambitious science fiction films was released: DUNE. This unique science fiction film saw the merging of the young talented director in David Lynch, the experienced hand of the De Laurentiis family, the music of Toto and Brian Eno, a wealth of talent behind the camera that designed the universe of 10,191 AG. All of this was built on the foundation of the legendary 1965 novel of the same name by Frank Herbert that has been praised as the best science fiction book of all time. To breathe life into the pages of the book was one of the best casts were assembled for a sci-fi film ever. What was hoped by fans, backers, and the production was the fulfillment of Herbert's vision in a science fiction epic film similar to the Golden Age Hollywood historical epics. Sadly, that did not happen for Lynch's DUNE. Costing more than $40 million in 1984 ($97 million in 2019's money), DUNE lost a fortune, garnered bad and confused reviews, along nearly bankrupted Dino De Laurentiis and Universal Studios. Decades have passed since then and fans of the book remain divided on the 1984 film, which has not enjoyed the cult status of fellow 1980s sci-fi films like BLADE RUNNER. One of the most controversial elements incorporated by David Lynch not found in the original text was the inclusion of the sonic weapons known as the Weirding Modules. So controversial was the Weirding Modules that few DUNE works have included these weapons. In this latest installment of The Weapons of Sci-Fi, FWS will be shedding light on one of the most controversial weapons in all of science fiction: the Weirding Modules of 1984’s DUNE.
What is the “Weirding Way?” Before we can discuss the Weirding Modules, we must investigate just the "Weirding Way" mentioned in the original 1965 text. In the DUNE novel by Frank Herbert, one of the oldest mental training school in the known universe that arose after the campaign against the thinking machines, the Bultrian Jihad, is the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood. The goal of the school was to set up and direct a selective breeding program among the interstellar human societies to create the next evolutionary step in humanity's development. To insert themselves into society among the Great Houses to carry on their breeding program, they became royal mates, truthslayers, and advisories, to these important factions of the Imperium. One Bene Gesserit even rose to the position of wife to the Emperor Shaddam IV.
These abilities were due to the women of the Sisterhood were masters at control over their own bodies via Prana (nerve) and Bindu (body) training. This allowed them great abilities that bordered on witchcraft that also included their own martial art: the Weirding Way. The discipline of control via Prana and Bindu allowed a Weirding Way trained fighter to act and move much faster than a normal human. The control allowed for the Weirding warrior to picture something in their minds and having the body control to accomplish that move at the speed that made it appear as near teleportation. Paul Atreides was trained by his Bene Gesserit mother, Lady Jessica, in the way of the Weirding and it reflected in his fighting style. The Weirding Way saved the lives of Paul and Jessica when they encountered Sietch Tabr and Stilgar after the fall of House Atredies. When Lady Jessica controlled Stilgar, he pledged protection for the two of them if they taught the Fremen their way of battle. This training of the Weirding Way to the Fremen tipped the balance on Arrakis and the known universe. While David Lynch altered and twisted the Weirding Way into a sonic weapon developed by House Atreides for their new army, the original pure idea from the book was resurrected by the 2000 Sci-Fi miniseries and allowed to see what Frank Herbert might have been envisioning.
The Origins of the Weirding Modules in 1984’s DUNE I can remember reading the DUNE novel the first time in 1992 and being perplexed about the lack of inclusion of the Weirding Modules despite the Weirding Way being mentioned several times. With it being the pre-internet dark ages, I could not easily access the reason why David Lynch invented and then includes these sonic weapons into the 1984 film. But here is what we know about the origins of these devices. The idea of the sonic weapons and their basic operation are first seen in David Lynch’s second script that was dated May 29th, 1982 with the scene of Paul training the Fremen largely intact. From the near beginning of his movie adaptation of the 1965 novel it seems that Lynch was going to include these Weirding Modules to overcome something he could not envision filming: the hand-to-hand combat of the novel. According to often cited quote, David Lynch did not want “Kung-Fu on sand dunes” and he felt the concept of the hyperspeed moves of the Weirding Way would be unworkable and unfilmable. His solution was to invent a device that harnessed some of the concepts of the Weirding Way and the Voice into a weapon that fired a blast of energy that could visit all manner of violence on the target. It had its own style and allowed Lynch to play within the oddness of his DUNE world. It worked, yet it did not work at the same time. Due to Lynch’s hatred for the film and complete lack of desire to ever discuss the much maligned film, some of the information concerning the genesis of the Weirding Modules has been lost.
How the Weirding Modules Neutered the Fremen (The Weirding Module Controversy)
Hidden in the rocks of the planet of Arrakis is the desert power of the Fremen tribes. Suppressed under the brutal Harkonnens, House Atreides was attempting to tap their desert power via Duncan Idaho’s intelligence/diplomacy mission to form an alliance. In the book, the Fremen were highly skilled desert guerrilla fighters that needed a common leader and some refinement to forge these tribes into a fighting force to rival the Emperor’s legions of Sardaukar terror troops.
When the Shaddam IV was deposed by Paul Muad’Did, the Fremen became the new military force that enacted a Jihad when House Atreides became the center of power for the imperium cross the known universe. While Lady Jessica did teach the Bene Gesserit way of battle to the Fremen, the core of the Fremen fierceness was due to the harshness of Arrakis, which forged them. Any discussion of the Fremen also entails that the type of combat seen in 10,191 AG is not like today given the use of personal shields and the teaching of knife and sword combat that take tactical importance alongside the lasgun. Then came the film and Lynch’s magical sonic weaponry. We see time and time again that the breaking of the Harknonnen and the defeat of the Imperial forces at Arrakeen was not due to the Fremen, but the weapons given to them by outworlders, thus neutering the Fremen. The power of the Fremen was robbed and replaced with screaming into a throat mic. The Fremen got their groove back in the bold-but-misguided Sci-Fi Channel miniseries from 2000.
What do those Weirding Modules Fire?
That is a tough one. According to the speech that Paul made to the gathered Fremen at his demonstration: “some thoughts have a certain sound, that being equivalent to a form. Though sound and motion, you will be able paralyze nerves, shatter bodies, set fires, suffocate an enemy or burst his organs. We will kill until no Harkonnen breathes Arrakeen air!” In the film, the House Atreides developed Weirding Module weapon system came in two pieces: one was the throat microphone and the other is a gun-like handheld device. When the operator chants a certain sound, the throat mic send into the to emitter device and out the "barrel" or "emitter". In the film, the emitter cluster on the Weirding Modules do emit some sort of beam-like energy that does indeed shatter, send enemies flying, and set fires. The weapon is mentioned to be sonic-based, which makes the Weirding Modules fall into the category of a directed energy weapon (DEW). If we are to examine the actions of the actors when they fire the Weirding Modules, they seem to have a real kick or recoil.
Given the magically nature of some of the elements surrounding the Weirding Modules DEW, I am guessing that they fire a burst of some sort of energy with the flame sound being seen on screen as more of a stream of energy. There is no mention of the maximum range, ideal operational conditions, firing capacity, and endurance of the power source in any official source...if there was one.
What does the Weirding Module say about the DUNE Movie Setting?
At the opening of the 1984 film, the normal balance of the known universe under the Padishah Emperors, the great houses of the Landsraad, and the CHOAM Company was influx due to the popularity of Duke Leto Atreides I of planet Caladan. The Emperor felt threatened by his rising popularity and devised a plan to end the threat of the dear Duke by getting their arch-rival, House Harkonnen to attack them while House Atredies occupied Arrakis. This would crush the Atreides, the Duke, and their new army once and for all. During these tense times, the Duke was betting heavily on a new weapons technology to put his new army on equal footing to the Emperor’s Sardukar Terror Troops: the Weirding Module. The Weirding Module directly speaks to the oddness of the DUNE universe, the power of the Bene Gesserit mental training, the influence of the Lady Jessica on the Duke, and the danger posed by developing an army to challenge the Emperor. Then there is the nature of the actual limited warfare of the universe of 10,191 AG.
With all of the travel of the known universe tightly controlled by the Spacing Guild and their greedy need for spice drug, any destabilizing conflict between the Great Houses was not allowed to happen. It was as simple as that. There was no real way to cross the vast gulfs of intergalactic space for the Great Houses without the Guild. If one of the Great Houses of the Landsraad was going to invade another House, they had to get the blessing and support of the Spacing Guild so that the invasion force could be loaded up and transported by Guild heighliners to the target world or system that could lay millions of lightyears away. Shaddam IV’s grand scheme to rid the Landsraad of Duke Leto and his house had to gain the consent of the Spacing Guild to be put into motion. Even the Emperor had to ask for a lift from the navigators of the Guild. With this and the Great Convention, the nature of warfare was limited and while some of the Great Houses invested in military organizations to protect their worlds, it was still limited when compared to our modern combined arms centered armed forces. With personal energy shield generators and the sobering risk of rouge Lasgun striking a shield triggering a nuclear explosion, infantry combat was much more personal with blades and projectiles to overcome the shield barrier.
There was the limited use of armed Ornithopters, and artillery, but that was rare and mainly seen in the DUNE novel due to the weather conditions on the sandbox preventing the use of personal shielding in the open air. When the Baron assault Arrakeen, the Atreides were surprised at the use of armed ornithopters and even artillery, speaking to its rarity. War by assassin and raids were much more common and less likely to trigger a major conflict. But, the Guild could shut that down if they wanted and if the Spice bribes were not enough to make them look the other way. In these conditions, the Weirding Module arose in the hands of the Atreides and it is likely that these weapons could be used against shields and throw the nature of warfare in 10,191 AG into chaos. The Weirding Module Props Sci-fi props are almost always a fun mystery to dive into and when it came to the infamous sound weapons of 1984’s DUNE, there were many lingering questions. In order to get them answered, FWS sought out people associated with the 1984 DUNE production or had knowledge of the props, including Ron Miller. I must day that we, as a community, got very lucky that in 2010 when one of the very rare (or only one) “hero” Atreides Weirding Modules props used by actor Kyle MacLauchlan was put up at auction allowing us to have detailed photos and information on this one-of-kind sci-fi prop weapon. According to the auction description the prop body was made from resin and wood with little stylistic elements made from black rubber tubing, machined aluminum with the prop not being black in color as I originally thought, but a maroon. Internally, there was wiring and switches to control the red activation light. The overall measurements were 8 inches, by 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. Another auction of the only known Fremen hero Weirding Module prop used by Kyle MacLauchlan was conducted in December of 2003. In description it mentions similar materials were used to construct the Fremen Weirding Modules and their overall dimensions are somewhat smaller as well: 7 inches long by 8.5 inches high. As with the Atreides army model, is the only one of this version known to exist. It is likely that while dozens of stunt Freman Weirding Modules were assembled for the shoot, only one or two close-up “hero” props were made for the production. This maybe have been due to money, due was a very expensive production. A fact confirmed by none other than sci-fi design master Ron Miller via a 2018 FWS email interview. While he was involved heavily in designing the world of DUNE, he was not as directly involved with the design of the Weirding Modules that from he told me, were designed to look like animals. The duty of designing these sonic weapons fell, according to Miller, to director Lynch and the late production designer Tony Masters. The other two heavier Weirding Modules that seemed to be based around rotary cannons (which are some sort of weird theme in the DUNE film) are nearly completely unknown and none of them have surfaced online.
When I asked about why the Fremen and Atredis Weirding Modules were different in design, Ron Miller came back with this: “There seem to be alot of pyramids in the production design of DUNE overall. Other than the Emperor's tent, I've never noticed any overabundance of pyramids in the film. What there are is a lot of triangles, because Lynch likes them and a pyramid is just a kind of three-dimensional triangle. There is no other significance. But as to why the Atreides and Fremen modules looked so different is easy to answer. A great deal of very conscious effort was expended in making sure that the props, architecture, technology and costumes of each different planet had a distinctive look, and ideally one that reflected the planet's culture, history and resources. For instance, objects from Caladan were largely made of wood and brass, while Geidi Prime props were more industrial, focusing a lot on ceramics and iron. The goal was to be able to go into the prop shop, pick up anything at random and be able to tell what planet if belonged to simply from the materials it was made from. I think this was, and still is, a pretty unique thing to have done”.
The Killing Sounds/Words of the Weirding Modules
One of the often mocked elements of Lynch’s 1984 DUNE is those special words yelled out by the actors into their throat mics to fire their sonic guns. As we all know, the Weirding Modules and the words were a creation of David Lynch…but there may be one example for the original text. In the “Imperial Terminology” section of the original DUNE novel there is an entry on a weaponized sound used by the Bene Gesserit: “Uroshnor”.
As described, it is one of the sounds that the trained Bene Gesserit can “implant” into the mind of the subject, allowing the Bene Gesserit to control or immobilized the subject. This could a part of the origin of the Weirding Modules and their strange vocal stylings as seen in the movie. According to Ron Miller, these Weirding Words, like “Chak-Sa”, “Ummm-Cha”, “Inyuk-Chuk”, were “entirely an invention of David Lynch: he wanted something that sounded both alien (in the sense of not being any recognizable language)..
Since the first hunting stories where told around a fire, humans have been captivated by tales of combat and heroism. That just who we are at our core and those primitive stories have been upgraded due to the progress of technology and scientific understanding to forge the genre of science fiction. Today, tales of space warriors battling among the stars with laser swords and ray-guns are commonplace within the realm of popular entertainment. When most think of science fiction combat scenes from sci-fi on TV, in anime, video games, or in popular films; they imagine those large-scale space battles with starships trading colorful bolts of killer light. Quite recently, I was thinking of space battle scenes in sci-fi while watching an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise on cable and decided it was high time FWS rank the top sci-fi combat scenes in the visual medium. After some posts on the Twitter and the Facebook to get the input of the FWS community, I came up with a list of the top 25 sci-fi combat scenes. Of course, I could not include every suggestion and I had to cut a few that I wanted to include, but the list could not be 50 or 100 examples. ENJOY!
The Criteria for Selection These were tough choices and the FWS community helped me out to narrow down the massive amount of choices that exist in the whole of visual science fiction. Some of these were chosen for the historical importance and/or impact on the sci-fi as whole such as the Battle of Yavin IV from A New Hope and HALO 3: Landfall. Others were chosen for their gut reaction that had caused me to say: “I need a towel and a cigarette” afterwards. When it came to works that contain a vast amount of sci-fi combat sequences, like Trek or Wars, the decision was much tougher. This list could be packed with examples from Star Trek, B5, Stargate, and Star Wars, but that would be not fair or representative of the wider realm of sci-fi combat in the visual medium. So, that meant that I had to boil down to the core of the battle scenes in those franchises. Some key moments in those franchises were not included like the first encounter with the Jem Hadar that resulted in the first combat loss of a Galaxy class starship, the first combat use of the Defiant, the Battle of Section 001, and the Battle of Proxima III.
One of the most dramatic battles in Star Trek history was the Battle of Wolf 359 and there are some that suggested that I include it on the list. However, we only see a brief moment of it in the series premier to DS9 and the aftermath in TNG. While critical important to Trek history, it cannot be included because we never see it. I did not include the Battle of Coruscant, which are critical moments in Star Wars canon due to their timing and placement in the canon. Tough choices had to be made. The Battle of Coruscants was a popular choice, but after watching it, the battle is more about Obi-Wan and Anakin which was the same for the epic face-off between Darth Maul and the Jedi in Episode I. Another thing that was deeply painful for me was not being able to include any combat scenes from Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato/Space Battleship Yamato 2199. I tired, but I felt that there was just better combat scenes and the second Starblazers TV series, the White Comet Empire, was just not aired in enough American TV markets to justify the inclusion of the final battle.
1. The Battle of Yavin IV from Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Most of the time, FWS does not assign numerical value to Top 10 lists, but here the number one slot is the actual number one combat scene in all of science fiction. While epic and thrilling, the Battle of Yavin IV was a revolution in special effects, audience engagement, and space battle sequences. Star Wars threw down the gauntlet and the rest of sci-fi had to pick it up. Until that 1977 film and its groundbreaking SFX, there had been few if any noteworthy sci-fi combat scenes and most were Godzilla kicked down Tokyo or invaders from Mars. When audiencse witnessed Rebel assault on the first Death Star, what they would expect from sci-fi films was forever altered and just like in the fictional Star Wars universe, there is a before the Battle of Yavin and After the Battle of Yavin in sci-fi cinema history.
2. The Battle of New Caprica from Battlestar Galactica (2006) For nearly a season, there had been buildup to the Colonial liberation of the occupied New Caprica and we were not disappointed. When the plan finally came together, we were treated an amazing moment in sci-fi combat scenes: Adama Maneuver. Having the Galactica burn into the atmosphere of New Caprica from a FTL jump, deploy fighters, then burn out using the FTL jump system was amazing. Then Galactica took on several basestars. With the end of the Galactica in sight, the Pegasus arrives and unleashes hell onto a basestar, destroying it and saving the Galactica. However, the Cylon force proves too much and the Pegasus, the second to last Battlestar in the known universe and the last of the Mercenary class is destroyed, but the Galactica is saved. Many have praised the combat scenes in this episode as the finest in the entire show and one of the greatest moments in sci-fi combat.
3. The Hawkmen Assault on War Rocket Ajax from Flash Gordon (1980)
Okay, I’ll admit it that this one is completely out of place because it is from one of the cheesiest sci-fi movies of all time that is also entertaining as hell. That does not take away from the power of the Hawken Assault on the War Rocket Ajax. I watched this movie repeatedly back in 1982 when it came on HBO as a wee lad and it has always stayed with me. With the booming power of Brian Blessing’s “DIVE!”, the organismic pounding of Queen’s score, and the overall kinetic nature of the scene all adds up to I need a towel and the soundtrack STAT.
4. The Battle of B5 from Babylon 5 “Severed Dreams”(1996)
Since Season Two of this great-but-uneven-show, there has been a conflict building between EarthGov and B5 and it peaked when President Clark attacked the breakaway colonies, forcing Sheridan to declare the independence from the Earth Alliance. This action causes Clark’s regime to send in a taskforce of Omega class and Prometheus class warships to force the station into surrendering. It is here that two independent Omega class warships join the fight with the station and we see just how good the defensive upgrades are.
What results is one of the finest space battles outside of Deep Space 9 and Stargate SG-1. It is one of the finest hours of the entire show. It was not just limited space combat, but also fighting within the station when EarthForce Marines board the station and engage the security forces in close quarters warfare. When EarthGov sends in reinforcements, it looks like the end for B5, and then Delenn shows up with a few Minbari cruisers and utters one of the best lines in the entire series. This was overwhelming chosen by the FWS community and I cannot agree more. 5. The Battle of the Homeworld from Ender’s Game
In the realm of military science fiction literature, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card looms large and the science fiction community was excited by the news that a live-action big budget film was being made due to the popularity of the Hunger Games. While the film flopped, it was not due to the battle sequences and none where more epic than the final showdown at the homeworld of the Buggers. It was even better if you understood the twist. It was like Ender was a master conductor and all of the rest of the players on the battlefield and in the C3 center was the orchestra being perfectly guide to victory. 6. Invasion of Planet P from Starship Troopers (1997)
This is where the tables turned for the Earth forces and their war effort. Unable to make the direct strike on the Bug homeworld of Klendathu after a bloody failed invastion, the plan was to "planet-hop" back to their homeworld. It is here, on Planet P, that once home to a illegal Mormon colony, that the Federation forces locates a brain-bug. In the 1997 film, there are two battles shown on Planet P. One was the scouting expedition to the Mormon outpost by the Roughnecks and then the full-on assault by the Federation forces to capture the Brain-Bug. Both battles are amazing, kinetic, over-the-top, and unlike anything seen on film before. With massive battles on land, underground, and in space, the overall invasion of Planet P is one of the best science fiction combat sequences with all of the humors and spent brass one would expect from SST. 7. Battle of Hoth from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Well, of course this one is going to be on the list…how could it not be? The Battle of Hoth is an amazing achievement in 1980 SFX technology and it works perfectly to clearly broadcast the military power of the Empire. This was one of the first to show combined arms in science fiction as well as live-action mecha-like vehicles. It was also awesome to see ground-to-space artillery on-screen as well. Very thing is here in this battle. 8.Battle of Geonosis from Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of the Clones (2002)
When Lucas finally announced that the prequels would be made, he was cashing a check he’d written in the original trilogy: that we’d see the Jedi Order at the apex of their power. All we had seen of the Jedi was a cyborg with breathing issues, a farm boy half-trained, and an old man well pass his prime. Now, it was finally time to see the Jedi as promised. Certainly the dual between Master Jinn, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul was thrilling, it was not the massive Jedi battles we had expected when imagining the Clone Wars.
That promise was fulfilled when the Battle of Genosis unfolded. It was during the Jedi assault on the arena that first saw a mass Jedi force engage an enemy force of insect aliens and droids. During the research phase for this entry, I learned something shocking about the Jedi Strikeforce sent to Geonosis. Over 200 Jedis were sent and only 32 survived. After watching the arena scene, I realized how much of a mess this part of the battle is and how it pales in comparison to the when the Clones arrive with Master Yoda. That is when the battle really picks up and we see the new hardware of the Clone Army. 9. Operation Return from Star Trek Deep Space 9 (1996)
While there had been a few massive space fleet combat scenes in Trek, there was nothing like what we witnessed on November 3rd, 1997 with the launching of Operation: RETURN. 627 Federation ships of all eras, types, and even some assembled from the mothball fleet were present against over 1200 Dominion and Cardassian warships. It was a mammoth battle that was unlike anything ever seen in Trek history and in sci-fi TV. To accomplish this, the production turned away from traditional methods and used CGI. Many of us watching Sci-Fi TV at the time thought the October 12th , 1997 Battle for Earth in B5’s “Endgame” would be the most epic battle of the year, then came the retaking of the station by Starfleet along with Miles and Julian reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade as a prelude to the epic battle. This one of the most bold starship battles ever attempted at the time and still looms large over the genre. While some argue that the final battle at Cardassia is the peak of the Dominion War, however, that has the cardinal sin of space battles: recycled footage. This is not the Masters of the Universe cartoon okay?
10. The Normandy Beach Assault from Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
One of the best science fiction movies and a damn fine novel is the 2014 Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. There is so much that this film does that we fans of sci-fi wanted for many years: infantry in exo-armor, a massive realistic sci-fi battle, and even a beach landing. While some of this was fulfilled by the excellent 2011 Battle: Los Angeles, Edge of Tomorrow’s Normandy Beach assault is one of the finest sci-fi battlescenes ever filmed and we get to see it over and over without it being tired. The only downside to the battlescenes in Edge of Tomorrow is the aliens themselves. I dislike their design and I nearly replaced this entry with the bridge battlescene from Battle: Los Angeles due to that, but then I rewatched the film and realized that this promise kept. 11. Attack at the Atmosphere Processor ALIENS (1986)
Prior to this moment, the audience had only ever seen one Xenomorph creature on screen, but when the Colonial Marines tracked down the colonists at the atmospheric processor on LV-426, the stage was set for an amazing moment for the audience and something that had not been seen in sci-fi cinema before. What resulted was a master class in depicting a chaotic battle and building tension. It was a moment unlike any military sci-fi history and that was just an introduction for the battle of the Operation centers just an hour later in the film. This was combat, in in most personal and kinetic manner. Ending with Hicks shoving a shotgun into the mouth of a warrior drone and one of the greatest lines in the film, this battle is still amazing.
12. Battle of the Mutara Nebula from ST II: TWOK (1982) Star Trek never had great combat scenes until 1982’s The Wrath of Khan and it was not a space battle between the Klingons or the Romulans, but Federation starship vs. Federation starship! After Khan’s Reliant deeply wounds the much larger refit USS Enterprise, the stage is set for a rematch…but given the damage to the Enterprise, Kirk orders the heavy cruiser into the Mutara Nebula to even the odds. What follows is a tense game of hunter-pray between Federation starships with beautiful special effects, great acting, and unforgettable music. When the end comes for Khan, he quotes Moby Dick and unleashes the forces of creation. While Star Wars had space fighter combat, Star Trek had ship-to-ship space battles. Sadly, it would be four movies until we got something close to the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in Star Trek VI. 13. The 2372 Klingon Assault from Star Trek Deep Space 9 (1995)
For many years, Star Trek as a whole has been writing a check about the Klingons that the franchise would have to cash at some point, that moment came on October 2nd, 1995. Aired as a feature length episode that is broken up over two episodes in syndication, it was a game-changer for Star Trek as a whole in terms of the bar being raised for space battle sequences. It also finally showed the Klingons in direct combat with the Federation in a major combat engagement. Prior to this, there had been a few space combat sequences for Trek here and there, but nothing in terms of scale or complexity as the 2372 Battle for Deep Space 9. The two hour episode “Way of the Warrior” features the Defiant engaging the Klingons to save Cardassian VIPs, the station using its upgraded weapons grid, and close quarters combat inside the station and the Root Beer scene. For me, this was the high point of DS9. It was here that great deal of story elements were laid down for the battle scenes that followed in the show and in any other Trek shows.
14. HALO 3: Landfall (2008) In 2008, the marketing campaign for HALO 3 was bold and expensive with Microsoft/Bungie diving in with a live-action “prequel” to the opening of HALO 3 featuring a ODST unit on a special mission. We fans of HALO and Military SF were very excited by the tense, realistic nature of the three part short videos directed by raising star Neill Blomkamp. When..
During the second wave of anime, one of the foundational concepts and hallmarks of military science fiction came flooding into the United States: combat mecha. Works like ROBOTECH, Gundam, Voltron, and Saber Riders and the Star Sheriffs all featured mecha fueling these manned metal warriors to become icons of these shows that nearly eclipsed the characters. The popularity was not lost on other markets, toy and model manufactures capitalized on the trend with turning out plastic and diecast representations of mecha. However, live-action mecha was illusive and only a few examples were made prior to the advent of CGI special effects. All of us that lived through the heyday of Mecha (along with the giant robot crazy) anime/manga want badly to see live-action mech-on-mech combat as we were acting out with our toys or on the hexagon battlefields of BattleTech. Then in 1990, our hopes and dreams seemed to be answered with the release of a live-action film called Robot Jox that featured mecha! In this latest installment of Broken Promises, FWS will be looking at the betrayal that was Robot Jox.
The Origin Story of Robot Jox
According to an August 1989 Starlog magazine article, the spark that began this film came to director Stuart Gordon came when he was in a Toys R US and saw the famous Transformer toyline. He was quoted in the Starlog article as saying that he loved the box art showing “maintenance workers climbing over the giant robots”. As far as I know, there is no Transformer toy box that has an illustration like this. It more likely that Gordon was talking about the legendary 1984 Revell Robotech Factory model kit. Upon seeing the model box art, Gordon naturally assumed that giant robots would make a great film and that the special effects industry was able to delivery on that promise.
This seed of Robot Jox was presented to Empire International Pictures head Charles Band and original shot down due to the assumed expense of showing live-action mecha on screen. However, Band changed his mind and funded an SFX demo reel for proof-of-concept with David W. Allen in charge of bring the dream of Japanese anime mecha to life. On the strength of the demo reel, funding was granted for $7 million. This made Robot Jox the most expensive film ever undertaken by Empire. To pen the script, Gordon called on a titan of the science fiction literature: Joe Haldeman. Yes, the same Haldeman that wrote The Forever War. Haldeman and Gordon knew each other when the director was working on adapting this 1975 military sci-fi book into a four-part TV special. When that project fell through, Gordon transformed into a 1983 stage play…which Yoel profiled for FWShere. According to an September 1990 Starlog interview with Joe Haldeman, the two worked on an idea of sci-fi take on the Iliad with mecha. When the pitch was presented in LA, it was accepted and then Haldeman rewrote the film script six times. After another terrible script was penned by another writer, Haldeman was flown to Rome during filming to write as the film was in production. He was able to see his words acting out and alter things to adjust to the actors. Haldeman loved it and spoke positively of the production and Gordon. Original, Haldeman wanted the film to be called “the mechanics”, but was overruled. In total, according to Gordon’s calculations, Robot Jox had 11 scripts and the two never resolved the critical issue of different the POV on the film. Haldeman was writing an adult film that kids could enjoy, while Gordon wanted a kid’s film that adults could enjoy. Later, Haldemen’s tune changed and thought the movie suffered “brain damage”. The filming was wrapped up in 1987 with Empire eyeballing a 1989 release. There was another year of filming associated with the mech scenes (who were designed by veteran Ron Cobb and possibly built by Danny Chambers) in a dry lakebed in the Mojave Desert to capture depth of field with working with the robots. Due to the expense of the hero models, many stunt models were constructed for the battle damage and explosions effects. Some say that the final Alexander robot was destroyed on camera and a few of the screen-used robot fighter models have found their way into the hands of collectors over the years.
The World of Robot Jox
Fifty years after a nuclear war, the world is far different. Out of the devastating war emerged two political and economic blocs: the Common Market (mostly the old USA and Japan) and the Confederation (Russia, parts of Europe, some of the rest of the world). Given the horror of the nuclear war, all out warfare was ban by treaty between the two blocs. To settle issues over resources/land that could not be resolved via diplomacy, there was a form of gladiatorial combat that involved 120 foot piloted robots. These armed contests became a key economic, governmental, and social focus that caused the best minds in resource to build the best mechs, people placed bets, and the Jox were recruited from the cream of the crop. These jox are followed like Football stars and they are contacted to 10 fights…if they live that long. At the opening of the film, the Confederation best Jox, Alexander, kills a Market Jox after his mech was broken and destroyed. With the loss of Alaska at risk for the Common Market, the best Jox in the Market is sent to deal with Alexander: Achilles. Prior to their showdown, Achilles and retired Jox, Tex, meet the new genetically engineered Jox crop. It is hoped that these “tubbies” will help the Market win more matches than just new weapons and equipment on the mechs.
The Historical Context of Robot Jox
There are many times on FWS when we discuss the historical context, we often bring up that the work in question was not released at the right time or not in the right way…that is not the case for Robot Jox. When Robot Jox was completed in 1989, the conditions on the ground were ripe for a live-action military science fiction mecha movie. Anime was being liberally distributed across the American TV markets; toy and hobby stories were carrying mecha-related products, and the VHS rental market was well established. It should have been a slam-dunk for Robot Jox to come in and be a hit…but it wasn’t.
The Broken Promises of Robot Jox
For something to break your heart and be long regarded as a broken promise it has to have a place in your heart…and Robot Jox did for many of us that grew up at the time of the second wave of anime into America. When we saw the trailer for Robot Jox on another rented VHS tape or the movie poster, we fans of mecha rejoiced that entire live-action mecha movie was coming and it was made for the western market by a studio that seemed to understand what they were undertaken and started off with the desire to make a mecha movie. Then we saw it and wasn’t what we wanted or even hoped for. At the heart of the majority of the broken promises associated with Robot Jox are not the stop-motion special effects, but the most basic element of a good film: the writing. Using elements of the Cold War mixed with mecha combat in a post-nuclear holocaust world was not a bad place to start and it fits with the timeframe that the film was made in. However, the film is packed to the gills with tropes that were played out even in 1990 and it crippled the film from being more than the sum of its parts. Most of the dialog is terrible with racist/sexist comments paired with either over the top acting or wooden performances. Some of the actors in the film, like Gary Graham, are good in the right role (he was awesome as Soval in Star Trek: Enterprise), but here, no one shines. The best bit of dialog was the moment Gary Graham yelled at Alexander that he was going to kick his ass. Then there is the mech combat, which is the reason any of us give two shits about this movie in the first place. After playing games like CityTech, watching anime like Voltron or Mobile Suit Gundam, seeing the AT-ATs in Empire Strikes, our collective hopes were high. The combat between two giant mecha in Robot Jox was geriatric at best and played out more like a game of rock’em, sock’em robots than BattleTech! While I understand the limitations of the special effects of the production, there was just breaks in tactical thinking and logical. At one point, Athena blinds Alexander with a pulse of bright light. As he is stunned and unable to see, Athena does nothing. Not a damn thing. She does not alter her position or engage any weapon system. She stands there and then when Alexander recovers; he leaps on her mecha and pounds the hell out of her. So much for the superiority of her modified genetics! Following this, Achilles takes control of the mech, and once in the pilot seat, he launches his massive robot into outer space. What. The. Hell. Am I to believe that these 120 foot tall (you would not believe how long it took to find that information!) behemoths are equipped with solid rocket boosters in their boots that would allow them to enter into orbit then reentry the atmosphere and that is a valid tactical maneuver in the realm of Jox tactics? Yeah…I call bullshit on that. Despite this insane moment in the film, it does not lead to anything save for Achilles being hit in the heel…I can’t even…and then Achilles engages Gerwalker mode. During the final battle, Alexander engages a couch-mounted chainsaw to buzzcock Achilles. Silly stupid shit. These sins among others add up to a mecha movie that was still wanting for a stronger, better script that makes the most of the well-designed 5 ½ foot miniatures. Wasn’t there a sequel or two?
During the dark ages before the internet and during the apex of the reign of the VHS tape, it was easier for production companies to lie to you and that is how Robot Jox got not one, but two “sequels”. In reality, there is no real sequel to Robot Jox due to the terrible performance of the film in its limited theatrical release, the poor reviews, and the first studio going out of business. The director of the film has gone on the record stating that a sequel was planned having the Robot Jox from both governmental blocs unite to repeal an alien invasion. This could have been completely deliciously terrible in a trash-but-good-way like Taco Bell. Due to the notoriety of Robot Jox, some other direct-to-video titles that featured mecha and were under the banner of Full Moon Features were tied into Robot Jox without being related in setting or story. The two films linked by misleading marketing are 1990’s Crash and Burn and 1993’s Robot Wars. Both of them are terrible in their own unique ways and not worth the hours of your life you would waste in watching them. Starship Troopers 2 looks like high art compared to these two “films”. Crash and Burn shares having Charles Band involved in the productions of Robot Jox and Crash and Burn, the misleading box art, and the words “crash and burn”.
Given this, the international releases of Crash and Burn title it “Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn” to attempt to tie to a more well-known film. Then that brings us to other more well-known "sequel": 1993’s Robot Wars. Again, this film linked to Robot Jox due to Charles Band production involvement and the subject matter of mecha battling each other in a barren post-apocalyptic landscape using the same special effects techniques as used in Robot Jox. However, it is a terrible film with somewhat better robotic combat action that either Crash and Burn or Robot Jox. Much like Crash and Burn, Robot Wars was packaged as a sequel to Robot Jox, with promotional material and box art claiming that was the 3rd film in the "Robot Jox film series". It was all VHS box lies to get people to rent these two terrible movies.
My Personal Experience with Robot Jox
I mostly grew up in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and one of the local video stores was the site of my introduction to Robot Jox. On the wall of Mega Movies in the Eastland Shopping Center (which is now a ghost town), there was the poster for Robot Jox and I felt in that moment that the promise of Battletech was going to be fulfilled in beautiful live-action. For what it seems like my entire life, I’ve been interested in mecha, and I grew playing with Japanese robot toys, building mecha out of Legos, and playing games like CityTech. So, when the promise of a real live-action film portraying mecha battling it out…I was all fucking in. It took weeks for my brother and me to get our hands on the only copy that Mega Movies had (rental VHS tapes were about $100 back then). Then we finally saw it in its entire broken promise spender and I was heartbroken. It wasn’t the “special effects” that bothered me, but the story that was just so dumb, like diving into a pool with no water. The film lacked any depth, grandeur, or real mech combat like I had played out in CityTech. I labelled this film just another dumb sci-fi movie that littered the shelves of most 1980’s video stores and paid it little mind for decades. Hell, I enjoyed 1990’s Hardwire more than Robot Jox, at least it was bold and had Lemmy from Motorhead. Until this blogpost, I never watched the film again, and when I did, I was just as pissed off as I was back in 1990.
What Happened to Robot Jox?
After filming was complete in April of 1987 in Rome and the lengthy work on the special effects sequences was undertaken, things began to fall apart for Charles Band’s studio. By the end of the 1980’s, Empire International Pictures was bankrupt and its assists were seized by their French bank creditors and either sold or placed to Epic Entertainment in May of 1988 that had a relationship with Crédit Lyonnais. This delayed the 1989 target release date for Robot Jox and the film languished while in post-production as the fate of Empire International Pictures holdings was decided by Epic. While David W. Allen’s crew was actually filming the robot combat scenes in the Mojave Desert, the collapse of Empire cause for the production in the desert to be shut down twice. Finally in November of 1990, Epic Entertainment/ Crédit Lyonnais/Trans World funded the finishing touches after seeing the promise in the footage to the film and then released Robot Jox in 333threaters via Triumph Films. It made a whopping $1.2 million in ticket sales in its short stay in theaters and not even half-a-million on its opening weekend. That was not even close to the rumored $10 million budget. It was then released around 1991 on VHS for the rental and home market. This is how the vast majority of us that witness the heartbreaking reality of a live-action mecha movie saw the film. The Legacy and Impact of Robot Jox Time can be very kind to films that do not perform well. It happened for Blade Runner and in some small ways, it happened for Robot Jox. At the time of the release of Robot Jox, it was made no money in its limited theatrical run and it is more likely that it made more money being sold to the VHS rental market with the tape being sold to video retailers for $100 ($183 in today’s money). For the first months it was out at the video store, it was a hot rental, at least in my corner of Oklahoma. At the time, its impact was that this was an honest to god live-action mech-vs.-mech movie that did not star Godzilla or was on an icy battlefield on Hoth. Then it faded rapidly due to word of mouth that this movie was just not that good. For many years, Robot Jox was aired on networks like the Sci-Fi Channel late at night and found in bargain bins, and it was mentioned here and there.
Then came the first trailers for qqqqqqqqqPacific Rim in 2013. It was then that I noticed that..
Any leap forward in design, fashion, and/or technology can be greeted as the harbinger of the future or a laughing stock by the masses. While this can be applied to personal electronics, clothing, and architecture; it can also be applied to firearms. During the 1980’s, the western nations invested heavily in advancing weapons technology to overcome the numerical superior of the Warsaw Pact. This was the time of cutting edge weapon system like the Apache attack helicopter, the M1 Abrams, the Steyr AUG, night vision, laser sights, and the H&K G11. It was also during this time that there was a rise of international terrorism and the development of counter terrorism special operations units that operated in the shadows. The tool of these operators was the SMG, namely, the H&K MP5 9mm. However, the spread of bodyarmor caused the future of the 9mm sub gun to be questioned by military planners and soon there was work on new high velocity cartridges. It was the historic Fabrique Nationale Herstal firearms company that soon took the challenge of a new HV cartridge and developed one of the most iconic futuristic weapons of all time: the FN P90 PDW. In this new serial, we will be exploring and explaining real-world weapons system that are deemed “futuristic” and used by sci-fi creators. I thought that due to the P90's frequent usage as a future firearm, that this little Belgium weapon earned the right to be the first weapon in this new series.
During the First World War, the nature of trench warfare and advancement of weapons technology caused the developed of rapid fire compact firearms that used the lower-recoil and smaller pistol cartridges, like the 9x19mm, to assault trenches. This was the German MP-18, and it was the vanguard of the submachine gun classification of firearms. This classification, the SMG, exploded during the 2nd World War with icons like the M1 Thompson, Sten gun, and the MP40. During this time, another important weapon was developed as a “light” gun that was might for defense rather than offensive operation…in theory. This became the M1 Carbine firing the lighter .30 round. This was assigned to specialized soldiers and officers that would be using the weapon for personal defense…and this has caused some to call the M1 Carbine the first PDW. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, the SMG would be an important weapon of defense and counter terrorism operations with weapons like the MP5 and the UZI. Some of these SMG had models that were even more cut down and compact, like the mini-UZI and the MP5K that allowed them to be similar to the PDW. In addition, H&K began to development MP5 SMGs in more powerful calibers like the 10mm and .40 S&W. During this period of time, there was a concern that pistol rounds where no longer going to cut it in close quarters operations with the spread of body armor. This is when the develop of the next generation of SMG was forged: the Personal Defense Weapon. The stated difference between the classic sub-gun and the new PDW is mainly the ammunition. SMG specifically fire known pistol rounds like the .45ACP, 9mm, and 9x18mm; while the PDW fire specially developed high-velocity ammunition that was designed in mind for defeating body armor. The basic function, operational environment, and design are very similar between the PDW and SMG. Some sites and online “experts” have debated that the P90 is a submachine gun or that all SMGs are PDWs. I acknowledge that the lines between PDW and SMG blurred when FN Hestal released the FiveseveN 5.7mm pistol, adding fuel to the flame(war). At the end of the day, I think separating the terms of SMG from PDW is best and there could be a time when the term SMG could be applied back to PDW. For the purpose of this article, the FN P90 is an Personal Defense Weapon. What Makes the FN P90 Futuristic? The Ammunition
Under the plastic-fantastic covering and futuristic design, the FN P90 is a compact bullpup weapon using straight blowback and a closed bolt. Pretty conventional weapons technology. What truly makes the P90 revolutionary is the bullet it fires: the 5.7x28mm. While required by the NATO outline for this replacement to the SMG, pioneering new cartridge types is always a tricky business…especially when it is tied to a new weapon system as well. After all, for every M16 there is an EM-2. While some of these new cartridges go on to become bedrock ammunition of modern firearms like the 7.62x39, 9mm, and 5.56x45; others do not and fall into obscurity like the British .280, G-11 4.73x33, and the 3rd Reich 7.92x33mm. One of the elements that set the submachine gun class apart of its PDW cousins is its use of common handgun cartridges. Weapons like the FN P90 and the MP7 fire a new breed of ammunition that was to overcome the shortcomings of the standard pistol ammunition against modern body armor. The P90 was the first to develop the new breed of high-velocity compact rounds for the new PDW classification, and this makes it a head of its time…in a word: futuristic. The original SS90 5.7mm round was developed and patented by Jean-Paul Denis and Marc Neuforge in the USA in 1989, but it was replaced by the SS190 round in 1993. When compared to the round it was replacing, the 9mm, the SS190 as a velocity of 2,350 FPS with 534J of energy with the 9mm being around 1,335 FPS and 455J of energy. This makes the 5.7mm a stingy little round that zips through the air with deadly effectiveness. While NATO tests have proven the round’s effectiveness, the traction on incorporated the HV round into any other official weapon platform other than FN’s own FiveSeven pistol has been slow.
The Overall Design One of the major reasons for the incorporation of the FN P90 into so many sci-fi works as a gun of the future is due to its avant garde design. Given its unique appearance, it is a no-brainer to be seen as a gun of the future, especially since nothing else looks like it in the world of firearms. However, the design is not odd-for-odd’s-sake like a French car’s interior, but is quite useful and ingenious. The P90 is one of the few fully ambidextrous weapons (great for me since I am a lefty shooter!) and is designed to be a smooth body weapon to avoid the PDW from being hung up on tactical gear. This weapon does not look like anything else on the firearms market given its double loop pretzel-like grip, boxy frame, and horizontal fifty round magazine of fun. After spending some time with the P90 in the real-world, you realize that it is a point-and-fire weapon that requires less time to get setup to fire, prefect for close protection units. There is no stock to pull out, and falls into the hand easily. Another feature that often is missed is the ejection port for the spent brass. It falls straight down from the bottom of the weapon, making it prefect for right or left handed shooters, adding to its ambidextrous nature of the P90. There are some weapons that allow for the switching the ejection ports, they are few. The P90 is this way right out of the box.
The Magazine After World War II, the funky placement of magazines was more or less paired down from the craziness of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and most magazine-fed firearms settled on being supplied from a magazine in front of the trigger directly under the action, behind the trigger (bullpup), or from the grip handle. Then there is the P90. To fulfill the requirements of making the P90 has compact as a man’s arm (19.7 inches) for its use in vehicles and other compact spaces, the FN design team came with the solution of a bullpup layout with a horizon magazine that had to spin the new unique cartridge into place. Another benefit of the horizontal placement of the magazine is that the entire gun is streamlined with no magazine hanging down. With the high capability of the standard magazine allows for the P90 to be pick-up-and-use weapon without need for tons of magazines stuffed into tac-gear for non-combat role users.
The History and the Historical Context of the FN P90
The submachine gun was developed at the tail end of the First World War and would achieve full operational deployment during the Second World War with weapons like the Sten, the MP40, the PPSH-41, and the Thompson M1A1. These compact, rapid-fire weapons were issued to Special Operations units, NCOs, and vehicle operators throughout the war. In the post-war era, the SMG would become part of every nation’s standard military firearms policy with dozens being produced like the Uzi, the Walther MP, and the MAC-10. However, two elements of history would define the role of the “sub gun” and allow for the development of the Personal Defense Weapon: the H&K MP5 and the rise in international terrorism. During the 1970’s, international terrorism incidents flared up, causing the development of counter-terrorism units and specialized tactics. In the hands of the majority of these CT units was the peerless German-made 9mm SMG: the MP5. From the late-1970's until the 1990’s, this sub-gun would be the tool of the trade/weapon of choice for Special Operations units, specialized police units, and movie stars. However, the 9mm round was thought to be an endangered species due to the spread of body armor, causing the development of new anti-ballistic armor rounds or retooling weapons like the MP5 to fire larger cartridges like the .45ACP, the 10mm, and the .40 S&W. While this never really happened in the CT realm of modern warfare, it was true that an increasing number of military organizations were issuing body armor, numbering the days of the 9mm round. This idea still continues to this very day and many times the 9x19mm cartridge has been declared dead.
It was during the climate of the increased defense spending, the continuing Cold War, and advancements in technology that caused the iconic Belgium firearms marker Fabrique Nationale to begin development of next-generation compact lightweight rapid-fire weapon in 1986. The early prototypes, around 1986, were a strange concept that was called in some articles a “point-and-click” gun that did not use the conventional stock or layout at all.
What is interesting is that in the few pictures of the late-80’s P90 prototypes, there is a mocked-up cartridge that looks very close to the 5.7x28mm round. It was 1988 before FN formal announced their next generation SMG/PDW project to the world and had been in development for two years by that point. Originally called the “Project 1990”, FN envisioned their cutting edge submachine gun to be advanced in terms of design, operational ease, and in the type of ammunition fired.
However, there is a mystery due to the very limited information about the early development days of the P90: why was FN was working on a next generation submachine gun-like weapon several years before NATO called for a “personal defense weapon” that could defeat modern and future body armor? Did they adjust the Project 90 PDW to meet the NATO requirements laid down in D/296 in 1989? Was it just luck? Did FN just follow the trend of SMGs being popular and came up with something next-gen? We may never know…When NATO released their goals for a new type of compact weapon that could provide “personal protection in last-resort situations” in 1989; FN was first to respond with their Project 90 weapon. In 1990, FN unleashed the P90 onto the firearms market and it is believed that the Belgian Special Forces Group was the first to buy the P90.
The Operational Record of the FN P90
One of the burning questions associated with this little Belgium PDW is its actual combat usage and its operational record. While is certain that the P90 has been used in close combat situations the world over by a variety of Law Enforcement and military organizations…there is little in the way of hard evidence or data that is available to us civilians. There are some sources that say that Belgian Special Forces carried the FN P90 during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and during the war in the sand box, the P90 was used for the first time in combat. However, I cannot prove any part of this story. From the little information online, the Belgium ground commitment of the coalition during the Gulf War was officially 400 engineers. It could be a possibility that these engineers were armed with the P90 as a means of self-defense, but, once again, I could not prove it.
The often cited first combat use of this revolutionary PDW happened on April 22nd, 1997 in Peru. In December 1996, the leftist terrorist group, MRTA, storm the Japanese embassy and took hundreds of hostages. Over the course of four months, all but 70 were kept in the hands of MRTA terrorists and Peruvian President Fujimori decided to launch a classic commando hostage rescue raid to free the hostages and the Commando team was under orders to leave no MRTA member alive. April 22nd, 1997, 142 Peruvian Army Commandos staged a daring raid. By the time that Operation Chavín de Huántar was complete, it became one of the most successful hostage rescue at that time with only one hostage died, two Commandos killed-in-action, and 14 MRTA terrorists dead. One of the crazy parts of the operation is that it was filmed; allow us to see the majority of weapons used by the Commandos. Like many Latin American military organizations, there is was a variety of weapons used including: Galils, AKs, UZIs with suppressors, mini-UZIs, with the majority using MP5s with suppressors and flashlights.
However, I was able to confirm via a zoomed-in photograph that there was indeed an FN P90 fitted with a suppressor in the hands of one Commando on a rooftop position. I do believe there are more possibly in the hands of some Commandos carrying an stretcher…but the footage is unclear. So, the first verified combat use of the FN P90 is indeed the Japanese embassy hostage rescue of 1997. The next major event in the little gun’s operational history is when the Houston Police Department ordered five P90s and thousands of 5.7mm rounds for evaluation for use by the city’s SWAT team for their point-man position in 1999. Shortly after, the Houston SWAT team became one of the first US users of the P90 PDW. After this, many other United States Law Enforcement agencies began to adopt the P90 for use by their special tactics units and even for normal patrol officers.
The US Secret Service, tasked with protecting high level government officials uses both the P90 and the FiveseveN handgun. Internationally, the P90 is seen in the hands of Special Operations units and special police units as well. Two of the most surprising users of this futuristic weapon is the Mexico drug Cartels and factions in the Libyan Civil War. In the book Cartel: the Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars by Sylvia Longmire, on page 205 she explains that the American ATF analyzed the most common weapons used by the Cartels that the ATF could capture. Among the wide range of weapons were the FN P90 and the FiveseveN pistol, which the author states that the Cartels are “fond” of these advanced Belgium made weapons.
However, one of the largest fans of the advanced weaponry FN was turned out was none other than former leader and piece-of -shit Muammar Gaddafi. The old regime that ruled over Libya seemed fond of FN weapons themselves and issued them to close protection units. Despite this fondness, Gaddafi..
Can a warrior ever leave the war? Once soldiers has seen the face of battle, can they return home and forget the fields of slaughter? Forget the shadow of death as they resume their old lives far away from battle? That is some of the question posed by a rather unique military manga title that was exported to the West and published by Eclipse Comics during the second wave of Anime/Manga in the late 1970’s-1980’s that went by the odd name of “Area 88”. Little did we know back in 1987 that Area 88 was one of the most iconic military manga titles in Japan and would go on to be developed into an OVA that was also sold in the West via US Manga Corps. However, unlike many other anime/manga titles that were imported to the western market, most know of Area 88’s existence due to an SNES video game. In this installment of Future War Stories of the East, FWS will be exploring the story of Shin, a Shanghaied mercenary fighter pilot serving in a North African war in the 1980’s at the airbase of Area 88!
What is “Area 88”?
This noted military manga series that became an icon of its time and something unique during the sci-fi dominated Japan told the sad story of mercenary pilots fighting at a secret air base, called Area 88, in a foreign desert during a civil war. The creator of Area 88 was manga artist Kaoru Shintani, who had worked with the great Leiji Matsumoto on some of his most noted works. First published in 1979 by Shogakukan Inc, it would run for 23 volumes until 1986. Speaking to its popularity, Area 88 is still a known and celebrated property around the world. Given the success of the manga, Area 88 was transformed into an a three-part OVA in 1985-1986 by Studio Pierrot , with dozens of model kits of the real-world combat aircraft, and even a video game in 1989 to follow. What drew people to this military manga was the unique story of mercenary pilots fighting in a fictional North African nation with the plight of Shin being the focus, but he was surrounded by a cast of characters that enriched the story. There was also realism paid to the air combat and the hardware used in the some of the early stories. Adding to this realism was the price paid by the characters going out on missions on a physical and emotional level. Much like Game of Thrones, core characters died that were not just red shirt security officers. There is also discussion of how former soldiers transformed into mercenary pilots due to their own inability to adjust to normal society. Some have grown to love death and killing, some cannot make a living any other way. Is Shin going to become one of them? All of this adds nice layers to a solid premise that as endured.
The Plot and Setting of Area 88
In the original manga, the story is set around 1979 with real-world history and events mixed with the fictional hardcore reality of Area 88. In the story, the North African nation of Asran is in the middle of a civil war over who will be the successor to the dead king. To protect and reunite the Kingdom via win this bloody internal conflict, Ling Zek of Asran had to go outside of the Kingdom to find soldiers and pilots due to the Soviet Union supporting the dead king’s other brother for access to the throne and the massive oil reserves of Asran. These private military contractors (called the Asran Foreign Legion) sign a three-year contract with the Kingdom that can make these freelancer pilots rich, if they keep their costs down. Pilots earn money for their missions and kills, but they have to pay the ammunition and repairs out of their own pockets…more or else, assuring these pilots are there at Area 88 for all three years. This even includes replacement aircraft as well. To get out of the contract early, one has to pay $1.5 million in 1979 money ($4.9 million today), go AWOL (which will get you hunted down), or die in the cockpit. While the majority of pilots at Area 88 ae there of their own free will, that is not true of our main character.
The young Japanese airline pilot Shin Kazama was tricked into his service in the Kingdom by a “friend” that wanted him out of the way, so he could climb the ladder of Yamato Airlines and this the main focus of the story. In addition, there is a motley crew of mercenary pilots wanting to make a fortune in the bloody battlefields of the Arsan civil war causing them to . Some join the ranks as veterans of Area 88 and others die in the endless conflict. When the manga opens, Shin is still over two years away from fulfilling his contract, and he kills to survive, but at the price of his soul. In the OVA, the character arch of Shin and the end of his time at Area 88 are presented in a three-part series that does take place between 1979-1982.
The Combat Aircraft of Area 88
One of the most frequent praises leveled at Area 88 is that animation associated with the fighters is peerless along with the attention to detail on air combat and mechanics of these fighters. The seasoning that enriches the world of Area 88 is really the lavish attention paid to the combat aircraft of the OVA. Some beautiful and expensive animation went into getting the planes correct and there a wider variety of fighters presented in the OVA. It is amazing to me how Area 88 bridges the gap between the combat aircraft of the Vietnam War era and the new generation of fighters rolling of the assembly lines in the very late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Given that the OVA series was set in 1979-1982, the majority of the aircraft seen in the OVA were mostly from the correct time period, however, there were errors. The F-14 Tomcat is shown in a flashback in Act II being using during the Vietnam War by former Navy pilot Mickey in a bombing run. The then new Tomcat was only used as escort during the Fall of Saigon in 1975, but it was in active service during the time period of the film. The F/A-18 Hornet seen in the OVA is anachronist, due to the first Hornets being tested in 1978 and only entering into service around 1983. It is highly unlikely that a foreign military could gain brand new Hornets for use in a warzone before the USMC and USN got theirs.
Then that brings us to Shin’s F-20 Tigershark. At the time of the writing of the OVA and the original manga, Northrop was undertaking the privately funded light fighter project for US military use and the export market, especially the Middle East, which made it prefect for the Area 88 setting. For years, the F-20 project moved forward with four prototypes being constructed and tested. However, the popularity of the F-16, Northrop wanting to preserve their futuristic B-2 stealth bomber program causing the cancellation of the F-20 in 1986. Only four planes were produced, and three of them crashed. The last one is hanging in a museum. For younger generations that mostly known the current fighter planes of the world, Area 88 is a nice introduction to the warhorses of the tail end of the Cold War like the F-8 Crusader, the F-5 Tiger II, A-4M Skyhawk, the F-4 Phantom, F-111, MiG-21, the French Mirage, Yak-36, and the F-100 Super Sabre.
The Historical Context of the Area 88 OVA
The late 1970’s were a translation period for anime and manga with the market expanding along with secondary products tied to the original work. Like all things, it seems, the global firestorm that was Star Wars altered the world of manga/anime as well, magnifying some the groundwork laid by works like Space Cruiser Yamato. While giant piloted robots, space fighters, and star soldiers were fine topics, the Japanese had an uneasy history with more realistic military themes and elements, due to the shameful Imperial Japan past. Military mangas and animes were rare and publishers were considered that military titles would be poor sellers. Science fiction and fantasy being mixed with military themes was more accepted…then comes Area 88 in 1979. Area 88, both the manga and the OVA came at interesting points in the respective histories of their media form. When the serialized Area 88 manga was released in 1979 in the manga magazine Shōnen Big Comics, it was firmly aimed at the male audience and was titled a “Shōnen” manga. Speaking to the concept of Area 88 being thought highly by the publisher, despite the post-Vietnam War era, Shōnen Big Comics was the most popular manga magazine in Japan at the time. The political climate was prefect for Area 88, with a number of pocket wars fought during the Cold War like the Rhodesian Bush War, the Ethiopian Civil War, Western Sahara War, Soviet-Afghan War, and Angolan Civil War; along with the rise in veterans entering into private military service and the founding of Soldier of Fortune magazine in 1975.
In addition, Area 88 came as the next generation of military fighter jets were being developed and released as the Cold War entered into a high-tech R&D phase. In the mid-1980’s, the Japanese anime changed due to the rise of home media and the extreme popularity of anime in Japan, studios pumped out anime directly to the consumer via direct-to-store releases on VCR tapes and laserdiscs. While direct-to-video products are mostly looking down upon in America, the demand for anime was so strong in Japan that this what the market dictated to fulfill the demand that could not be met by airing anime TV series.
The market wanted new anime and they wanted it now, and so, the OVA (original Video Animation) were born to meet demand. The OVAs were sold in episodes, normally over three tapes or discs, which was the same in America, or as a box set. In addition, OVAs were a great way to be experimental or test the waters if a full TV series was warranted. While it would seem that Area 88 would be prefect for a TV series, the core story of the manga was condensed into a three 65 minute episodes. OVAs also made it easier on the export market, especially in the old VHS media days. Complete series of any TV show on VHS were very expensive, often costing hundreds of dollars of a complete collection and these eat up shelf place in the store. These multi-tape OVAs were often sold individual or packed in a boxset, like the original Bubblegum Crisis, but I never Area 88 in a boxset nor the LaserDisc.
The Three Episodes of Area 88
1. Act I: “Blue Skies of Betrayal” (Released 2/5/1985)
The series opens with a bang, as spearheading armor is crushed under airstrikes, with our main character Shin Kazama pounding tanks into scrap metal with his F-8 Crusader. Over the course of the first episode, we learn about Shin being betrayed just after he and his friend got jobs at Yamato Airlines. After a night of heavy drinking in Paris, Shin was fooled by his friend and classmate Satoru to sign a contract for the Asran Foreign Service. Satoru was wanted to get Shin out of the way due to Shin being in a relationship with the president of Yamato Airlines daughter Ryoko. Satoru then steps into Shin’s place as the likely successor to the president and being Ryoko’s new man. This is told via a flashback as Shin attempts to relax after a mission and before Shin meeting a Japanese photographer that was assigned to cover the Asran civil war. The pictures that he takes allow Ryoko to finally know what became of Shin. Given the circumstances that cause Shin to find himself at Area 88, he is going on repeated missions to slay enough enemies to pay off his $1.5 million contract in the shortest amount of time. Then his Crusader is damaged by a MiG and he nearly dies going home. Given the damage, the F-8 is scrapped and Shin is forced to buy another plane, delaying his return to Japan and Ryoko by months if not another year. Shin enters into a dark place
2. Act II: “The Requirements of Wolves” (Released 08/05/1985)
Acting on pure emotions, Shin decides to take his chances and run from Area 88 late one night. But it is intercepted by the “deserter killers”, who are themselves threated by the pilots of Area 88. It is here that Shin realizes that he is here for the time being. After another air battle where the Japanese war photographer is killed, the episode switches to show the events back in Japan. Back at the front Shin is confronted by an assassin sent by Satoru in an air dual. While killing the would-be assassin, Shin’s new F-20 Tigershark severely damaged and Shin ejects into the deep deserts of Asran. Hoping that his would be ticket out of Area 88, Shin believes that he can escape as they think he was killed in the plane crash…then Shin wanders back to Area 88.
3. Act III: “Burning Mirage” (Released 6/15/1986)
Back in the cockpit, Shin and Mickey are once again back in the air as the war worsen for the Kingdom. The anti-government forces have started bombing the capitol city and seeing defeat, Shin is asked by Area 88 base commander Saki to escort King Zak’s plane out of Asran to France. For the most part, the civil war in Asran is coming to end. Saki releases Shin from his contract and informs the other pilots that they are to fly out of Asran as Area 88 will be forced to surrender. Knowing his fate, Saki is committed to buy time for the foreign legion pilots to clear out of the country by engaging the swarm of enemy MiGs rushing towards Area 88. Meanwhile, Shin is having issues adjusting to civilian life in Paris and decides to abandon civilian life and return to Area 88. It is there that Shin confronts that he is not the same man that arrived at Area 88 some 2 ½ years ago…he is a shadow of his former self and Shin worries of what that really means as he flies back to the desert.
Area 88 in the West
Area 88 has a rather interesting history in the West that is unique even among titles imported in the second wave of anime/manga. In original Japanese manga began its run in 1979, the same year the events in Area 88 occur, and the OVA was released in three parts between 1985 and 1986 just as the manga series was concluding in Japan. At this time, Japanese comics and animation was becoming more popular and more widely popular in America, causing companies to import more titles to the US shores. While anime titles were imported to the western market in the form of OVAs and TV shows, manga was far less common due to the harder translation and altering of the panel orientation. In 1987, Eclipse Comics, under their International brand, entered into a partnership with Viz Media to publish some of the first manga titles in the United States in a biweekly schedule on a wholesale scale. Among these titles was Area 88. First released in May 26th, 1987, #1 of Area 88 carried a special introduction page informing the buyer of the unique status and importance of what they held in their hand. 20 days before the release of Area 88, First Comics published Lone Wolf and Cub, one of finest manga of all time (and my favorite).
Quickly following in 1988 was Marvel’s mature imprint, Epic, publishing Akira. Eclipse International would end their valiant effort of publishing Area 88 on May 1, 1989 with issue #40. If you notice, I’ve been discussing the comic, not the OVA. That is the odd thing about Area 88, it was a comic book first that served as the introduction to the OVA VHS tapes and Laserdisc released by US Manga Corps in 1992 in three tapes (Art I, II, III). These would be sold at places like Hastings, Suncoast, specialized stores, and comic book shops. I would regularly see the Area 88 VHS tapes at Suncoast and even rentable at places like Block Buster (I miss those places!) during the 1990s. While many that were Otaku back in the day would see Area 88 in publications like Animerica, there were others that would the title remembered from comics, and still others that were eagle eyed would have connected the OVA/Comic to the popular SNS/arcade 1991 side-scrolling shooter U.N. Squadron (original released in Japan in 1989 by CAPCOM as “Area 88”).
This makes Area 88 highly unusual that several products from several media types were basically available all at the same timeframe which is very rare for an imported manga/anime product of the 1980’s. After the US Manga Corps license on Area 88 was up, ADV Films would take up the Area 88 mantle and release the OVA on DVD in 2006, but only Act I and III…not II.
Why is Area 88 Considered Military SF?
Well….it is not…not really. For the most part, the OVA (save for that stupid metal wall that the anti-government supply base throws up to defend the base from aerial bombardment!) is a mostly realistic look at aerial combat around the early 1980’s with now vintage aircraft. The series would be now considered “alternative history fiction” given its time period of 1979-1986, which was keeping up with the actual time when the series was published. When it comes to the original manga, the series dipped into science fiction..