Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My life in Manga

Back in the 80s, long before North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, or Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were threatening worldwide nuclear destruction; back when another psychopathic madman, Ronald Reagan, was getting on the Russians' tits about everything from trade and arms, to the arms-trade; back when Sting was cranking-up a flagging solo career with soppy, one-sided, social-conscience ballads; and back when Pete Garrett, fresh from the barber-shop, was televising an epileptic fit in front of the US’s giant, white, nuclear golf-ball located slap-bang in the middle of the Australian desert, every young Aussie Donkey worth his radiation-proof suit was shitting himself about an impending nuclear war which was looking like wiping human-kind off the face of the planet.

At the time, the pervading global angst associated with our prophesized shortened lifespan influenced a massive booty of books, movies and TV shows aiming to get us ready for the new big bang. Books like Z for Zachariah, Brother in the Land, Children of the Dust and The Chrysalids were all set in the uncertain days following the near-extinction of the human race. Mad Mel Gibson (before he really did go a bit loopy) brought it all to life for us Australians on the big screen as Max negotiated his way through the post-apocalyptic Outback, and this was followed up by the action comic adventures of Tank Girl.

There were a heap of TV shows as well (although admittedly these were usually the B-grade TV shows from the US that were only screened during the holiday season), such as Other World, and The Highwayman (ouch, that was bad! Even our very own Jacko didn’t help to bring that one back from the poo-pile), but there were some more thoughtful attempts as well, which were usually one-offs, such as the Australian Winners series. Of course, some of the old faithfuls, like Dr Who and Blakes’ 7 contributed their fair share of adventures in the post-nuclear landscape.

One that particularly springs to mind, however (and the actual reason for this rabid spray) was a Manga cartoon which we got to see in Australia in the 80s, and which probably had some awesome Japanese name which would be roughly translated to something like, “Super-Sexy, Funky, Young, Intergalactic Warrior Freedom Fighters Exploring the Galaxy to Save Mankind”, but which our linguistically challenged, 1980s translators decided to call Starblazers*.

The basic plot of Starblazers was that nuclear war had forced small pockets of human survivors to live in underground cities. The surface had become so hot and uninhabitable, and so devoid of life, that the survivors, realising it was time to return to the surface, were forced to go searching the universe for other inhabited worlds on which the remnants of mankind could carve out a new, more eco-friendly existence. So off they went, aboard a massive space-craft that had been converted from a 20th century sea-vessel. Weird, hey? Those crazy Japanese writers!

Anyway, Starblazers was, if I recall, a rather lengthy series, and the action sequences that kids love were liberally punctuated with all the soap-opera and relationships drama that Manga does so well, and I recall one episode when the crew had returned to Earth from their intergalactic exploratory mission empty-handed, and one of the main protagonists had journeyed back to the now abandoned underground cities with his main squeeze, a suitably waif-like, saucer-eyed, blond beauty. Our hero, his back turned from his beautiful, concerned companion, was reviewing flash-backs from his miserable, underground childhood, and was spitting anger from between his gritted teeth as he vowed to do all within his power to ensure his people would never have to live here again, like rats trapped in a cage, with nothing but vast, empty, isolating wastelands beyond.

Following this angst-ie speech, the Manga camera panned away from our pair in suitably dramatic stages, and what we saw was first the abandoned, littered street, then the line of sky-scraper like buildings lining the street, then more of them as we panned-out further, and then a whole, futuristic, but dilapidated city full of towers and sky scrapers – not a tree or any life in sight – and then further, we saw the edge of this concrete monstrosity, before empty, lifeless rock and rubble, and then, finally, the walls of the hollowed-out caverns.

I hadn’t thought I had remembered any of this, but obviously my own fear of nuclear destruction at the time had ensured that this scene was burned into one of the trillions of unused caverns in my limp Donkey brain, ‘cause just this week, I was unfortunate enough, as I flew over the capital of the sunny Maldives on a mission for Saving the World HQ, to witness “in the flesh”, this same post-apocalyptic city … and it all came flooding back.

“Oh no” thinks you, “Donkey’s lost it this time … the Maldives is that place where lily-white Europeans escape the winter to lay about in ultra-luxury on beautiful decks or under waving palms, sipping cocktails as they stare at the azure sky and turquoise reef, returning home a week later, brown as a berry and covered in hickeys!”. Well yeah, that is the very same Maldives, but those worshippers of the Roman god, Sol, generally land on the airport island, are ushered by resort operators to their luxury sea craft, and then whisked away to a dream existence of sun, sex, booze and … sex for a week, before returning back to the airport and to Europe.

What they usually do not do, is visit Male’. Male’, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, is a tiny island sitting in the middle of a vast, empty ocean - an emptiness which, on the surface at least, appears to the viewer flying above, as being devoid of life.

This enormous, featureless, blue emptiness stretches from Sri Lanka to Madagascar. There’s nothing between these except the undulating sea … and of course Male’. An island packed solid, from one artificial, reclaimed perimeter to the next, with tall, multi-storied apartment buildings, government offices, mosques and presidential palaces. Almost devoid of trees, this mountain of grey and white concrete, with its flashing, neon crown of advertising rises out of the flat, blue like some steep-sided volcano … or like some science fiction space colony, full of frightened humans trying to hang onto their last memory of humanity in a post apocalyptic world.

These were my first impressions of Male’, where I would spend the next few days in some kind of spiritual agony. Where were the tree-lined streets along the sea front, like in my beloved capital cities of the Pacific? Where were the old warehouses and rickety colonial houses? Where were the bustling fish markets? The dilapidated fleet pushing the bounds of seaworthiness? Where were the fat women selling papaya and kumara? Where was the island life I have loved and which I was expecting to find after so long in exile?

Not in Male’! In Male’ I found a polished, urban jungle which had wiped away all physical traces of its history, and which has unconditionally embraced wealth and consumerism in the form of cars, phones, luxury boats and motorcycles (and bear in mind that the whole island is only two square kilometres).

As I explored Male’ in those first days, my heart ached at the loss of a way of life that the ancestors of these people must have once enjoyed … a life that sustained. And as I wandered along the sea wall at night, past the hundreds of Maldivian young people who gather there every night (because there is no where else for them to go), I wondered whether, like our young Japanese hero of Starblazers, one of them would one day growl that he would do everything he could to ensure that his people would never again have to live like this, pent up in this concrete bunker like rats in a trap!

More on Male’ later…

Starblazers - it was a long time ago, but it seems to have left an indelible mark on my brain. Pic: Google images.

* Hey, guess what? I wasn’t quite on the mark, but Wikipedia informs me that it was really called Space Battleship Yamato.


Allie D. said...

You know... your blog ain't too bad either... ;)

BV said...

I've never thought about city life like that.

I guess you could look at any city in the US the same way. Once upon a time we had natives that lived and thrived off the land. Then we killed them off and put up our concrete, because that's what "civilized" people do.

DonkeyBlog said...

Yeah, Cakey, and we/they keep doin' it, too. All over the world, there are pockets of traditional cultures just dwindling ... I remember talking to a young Catholic Bishop once in the Solomons - he was a New Yorker from Queens - I cringed as he told me that his greatest achievement was when he could hand over to a young Kwa'arae tribesman his first piece of clothing, so that he could cover-up and embrace catholicism forever (which is Catholic code for "renounce all traditional beliefs"). Pretty horrible stuff.

But in regards to Male', imagine living like that, AND not being allowed to drink alcohol to boot! Civilisation - it's got a lot to answer for!

lucy said...

Well, that was a terribly depressing image Donkay.

Luckily you're pretty :)

(Also your comment about the Bishop and the tribesman was terribly sad)

DonkeyBlog said...

Hi Lucy, is nice to see you around these parts! I noticed you've been a bit quiet of late - but am still tuning-in regularly for updates. Sorry to depress - something more positive about Maldives soon.

Carl G. said...

Wow, that took me back in time Donkey!!

Funny thing is though, I don't remember any of that imagery. All I can recall is their necessity to fire the Wave Motion Gun at something at the end of every episode. Obviously I wasn't as deep as you back then! :)

Thanks for the memories.

DonkeyBlog said...

Hey Carl, nice to hear from you ... well, maybe I wasn't all that deep either, but some of that stuff sticks in there - one great thing about India, is cable TV, and that means 24/7 Manga on Animax! Awesome!