Saturday, December 23, 2006

Ain't it thrilling, though your nose gets a chilling

There are few things on Earth quite as inspiring and comradely as turning out to watch your team of underdogs get a well-deserved draw against the league leaders in freezing temperatures two days before Christmas. The result doesn't flatter us at all - there really was nothing to choose between the two teams, and we could easily have won. What's more, it was a clean, sporting kind of game, with no Boston players booked, for only the second of their 23 league games this season! Although Andy Marriott did his best to tempt the referee with some ludicrous time-wasting near the end.

With our new star striker Drewe Broughton suspended again after his second red card in his six games for the Pilgrims so far (to be fair, they were both reportedly very dubious decisions), Dany N'Guessan got into the starting lineup, and after a first half full of half-chances for both sides, opened the scoring on 55 minutes by catching the Walsall defence napping and classily tapping it past their goalie. It looked for a while like we might hold on for a win, but they equalised from a corner. Still, in between goals there was plenty of time for our fans to launch into the most popular Boston Utd chant - "We're shit, and we're one-nil up!" The Walsall fans didn't seem to have heard this one before, and took a minute to confer before retaliating with "you're fat and you're Chelsea fans". In fact, the banter between fans was very good-natured all through the game, it must have been the Christmas spirit at work.

This leaves us with a very symbolic 24 points from 23 games at the half-way point of the season, and the dizzy heights of 19th place in League Two. It's definitely starting to look like we might survive another year in the league at this rate. It's the local derby at Lincoln on Boxing Day, and I think we're well capable of winning it, although there'll be riots if we do. But to be fair, there are always riots after Boston-Lincoln games.

There were notices at Nottingham station to warn passengers that all Central Trains services on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day have been cancelled due to strike action. I mean, come on, conductors. You could at least pretend that there's some motive to the strike other than wanting the holidays off work! Since I'm not going anywhere, I admire their cheek.

Friday, December 22, 2006

We now return to Force Five

As promised, this is part two of the gallery of Krypton Force video covers. You can see part one with a simple click here, but if you can't be bothered, these are 1980s collections of American translations of Japanese cartoons from the 1970s, with wonderful artwork by the maestro "Marc". Without further ado, let's begin the show:

This is the one I just acquired recently - volume one of Krypton Force's Videotoons series, with lots of KF's hallmarks on it. There's the baffling tendency to describe Bugs Bunny as "the double B", the guesswork as to what the cartoons' titles should be ("The Chemist" is the classic "Bottles"), and of course an unusually atmospheric Marc cover, in which he has a creditable stab at drawing Bugs and Daffy but doesn't quite make them recognisable.

This is volume 1 of "The Protectors", which was Krypton Force's name for GaiKing. And, probably by coincidence, it contains the first two episodes of the series. Krypton Force's approach to volume numbers was delightfully random, as you'll see if you have the patience to read through this entry, so it was probably just by luck that it worked out like this. The cover features a particularly bad Marc rendition of the GaiKing robot - look how misshapen the lion mask chest piece is, in particular (there are plenty of screenshots to be found on the internet for comparison). And Darius (the red-faced bad guy) has his mouth (it's on his forehead, because he's an alien) drawn much too small, so it just looks like a little blemish of some kind. The futuristic city in the background is probably stolen from somewhere else, I doubt it's Marc's own work.

One thing I'd forgotten, with my brother having all three of the Protectors tapes in our joint collection, was that they have a sort of link-fence background pattern instead of the usual Krypton Force hexagons. Also of interest on this one is the first screenshot on the back cover - it's the head of the GaiKing robot, upside-down. They haven't actually stuck the picture on the box the wrong way up, it's a freeze-frame of a moment where the robot loops-the-loop and flies towards the camera that way up. It's still a strange choice for a picture, though, as are the others - a frame of annoying kid sidekick Bobby drinking a glass of juice, and a close-up of the baddie's head. Couldn't they have used a scene from one of the big robot fights or explosions? The first episode on this tape also contains the truly wonderful line "Our enemy has applied the reverse space cross theory to some sort of space bazooka." I admire the actor who had to deliver that statement in a fake Scottish accent, with a straight face.

One more Protectors tape (this is volume 3, but the sequence of KF volumes bears no relation to the order the episodes were originally broadcast. A Marc cover with fewer disembodied heads than usual, and a pretty decent stab at the Skylar robot and dinosaur.

Part one of "Sci-Bots the movie", as described in my previous post. The front cover is a classic Marc collage of poses swiped from the episode and stuck together with no regard for scale. And on the back, we have two more exciting scenes cut from a Ladybird Transformers book. The white flash you can see of the one of Galvatron actually contained the title of the story it illustrated. The blurb on the back also demonstrates the first of two spellings of the name of the first bad guy the Spaceketeers encounter - he's Tri-Ax-Con on this one, but Tryax Khan on other video boxes.

Back to the full-length episodes of Sci-Bots/Spaceketeers here. You've got to love the way they title the video "Snark & The Diamonds" and then write on the back cover about "Dr Snork".

The packaging doesn't mention it, but this tape is described onscreen as Sci-Bots volume 6. Sci-Bots, unlike the other series, has long continuing storylines, so you can follow the heroes' adventures from one tape to the next, as long as you're not watching them in Krypton Force's sequence. The story in this one continues into volume 3, and then the next part is volume 9. Tryax/Tri-Ax is the big blue and white furry guy on this cover, by the way. Check out his hand - I think that's swiped by Marc from a different source, possibly a Transformers comic, because Tryax wears black gloves in the cartoon and they're not shaped like that.

The decision to write the back cover in pink lettering on a purple background was a slightly strange one - it makes this very difficult to read. But just to take a break from poking fun at Krypton Force's packaging (I think it's great really, as I'm sure you know), this tape contains a good example of the American translators' occasional attempts to make the Japanese originals a bit more child-friendly, usually by pretending that nobody dies. The big purple leopard man shown on the cover here collapses at one point, Porkos checks for a pulse, shakes his head and says "He'll be okay." And that's the last we see of him. The 'movie' version of the saga is a lot less inclined to do this kind of thing, interestingly enough, but this scene is one of the many chopped out of the movie entirely.

The last Sci-Bots, and I've exhausted everything I can say on the subject. But what does "No surrender no return" mean?

You may recall me saying that I'd only ever seen one Orion Quest/Grandizer tape. Turns out I was lying - I'd forgotten all about this one, which if memory serves I actually bought for my brother years ago. More flying-saucer-based fun and excitement, yay. Actually, for one reason or another, this is the Force Five series I'm least in to. It might be the bad voice acting by the American cast as much as anything else - it's set in a rural area, so the characters have sort of yokel accents which get on the nerves a little bit.

On to the Formators or Starvengers, and isn't this a classic Marc picture? I think he preferred heads to bodies, and he's especially unwilling to draw legs, as this cover clearly shows.

Quite a few of Marc's earlier cover pictures don't take account of the caption flash in the top right corner. Although it's difficult to put them into date order, the kind of problem we see here does seem to have been avoided in the later works. Also, that dog is a darn good drawing. Did Marc really do that? The colour scheme is wrong and it seems a bit hairier than the dogs in the episode - possibly it was stolen from somewhere else and had a horn drawn on its head (all the bad guys have horns in Starvengers, even their dogs).

Now this is a classic. To add to the excitement value of the cover, we have, up in the top left corner, two Transformers, copied from the comic (Highbrow and another one whose name escapes me at the moment), and down in the bottom right another stolen comic scene, with Divebomb lying on the floor and Grimlock towering over him with rock in hand - but the top half of Grimlock's body has been replaced by an approximation of the robot from this tape's contents. Cut and paste some explosions and clouds, add a few of those famous floating heads in the air, and you've got the Marc formula for a great cover!

And this one's possibly even better. It's the box art for the Transformer Hun-Grr, expertly traced by Marc without the aid of a ruler, and the Dragon formation Starvenger robot's head drawn on top. The robot on the video looks nothing like the one drawn here, obviously. And yes, this is Formators volume 2, but it contains the first episodes in the series. Volume 1 was the final episodes of another series entirely - see my first post on this fascinating subject.


This one comes in two parts, because it's a cheap cardboard cover rather than a plastic one with removable paper inlay. Not so easy to photocopy. It's also the only Danguard Ace episodes I've ever seen with the Krypton Force label, and the first two episodes in the series. I suspect this was the last Force Five series they turned their attention to, and only started releasing it when they'd almost entirely run out of money. But maybe I'm wrong - the exact details of KF's business is something I'm completely ignorant of, much as I'd like to know what they were all about. The comic-strip approach to the back cover is also something unique in my experience, but the front cover, although unsigned, is classic Marc.

And that's that. I would love to find some more Krypton Force tapes out there, but as I said before, it's years since I came across a new one. I have it on good authority that there are at least a few more of them out there somewhere, so you never know.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mmfrfl

I've basically spent the whole day in bed today. You should all consider yourselves very lucky that I've dragged myself out of bed to write this, really. Actually, I'm feeling a lot better this evening than I was earlier on, although I'm still all bunged up in a not at all appropriate for Christmas kind of way. Wow, and there was just an advert on TV for 'Sudafed vapour plug', which apparently you plug into the mains and it releases soothing vapours at you. Frankly, I find that thing kind of scary. I'm sure there are cold remedies that don't need electricity.

Anyway, tomorrow, assuming I feel better, I'll have the long-awaited part two of my illustrated guide to Krypton Force videos - I've got my brother's collection here now, and I just need to scan them. And watch them again because I haven't seen a lot of them for a while. Which, come to think of it, might be something I don't get round to for a while, so promising to do this tomorrow might be a bit on the optimistic side. Still, I'm confident (despite a complete and total lack of evidence supporting this belief) that there are hundreds of readers out there who are really looking forward to this, so I'll do my best.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

But the wind blows right through you, it's no place for the old

It's turned really freezing cold around here overnight, just in time for Christmas. I've also had a really rotten cold for the last few days, so any messages of sympathy will be gratefully received. Achoo. Sniffle.

But in fact, I'm in a wonderfully happy mood, because I've just watched 'My Neighbour Totoro'. It's an absolutely fantastically good film. Admittedly I'm a sucker for anything that suggests there's magic just round the corner, but even looked at objectively, this is a masterpiece. I would advise everyone to see it, it's a real feelgood movie, and it's got a catbus. I should look at the Film 4 schedules more often, I only noticed it by chance today.

Also in the news, I think I should record that Boston Utd are on a winning streak at the moment - they've just won an absolutely crucial relegation six-pointer away at Torquay, even though there's still talk of the players not being paid this month and it was only through a generous local businessman that they could afford a hotel down there (Fawlty Towers, probably). They've got a home game on Saturday against the league leaders Walsall, who are having a bad run of form just lately. I might go down and see it, if the weather's not too bad. They need support. And money.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Grunch

Sorry for not posting anything last night and not mentioning why. I was at Ed's 25th birthday party, disguised as a horrific demon from the darkest depths. Coming in disguise was compulsory, you see, so I wore sharp and stylish clothes rather than my usual slobby stuff - my funeral trousers and jacket together with a black turtleneck like some kind of beatnik, plus the new and extremely uncomfortable shoes - along with the Brazilian Mystery Cloak and my fantastic full-head-covering rubber horror mask of a monster with a mohican. I've had said mask since I was 15 or 16, it was a birthday present and I recall my schoolmates not being nearly as impressed with it as they should have been. This was only about the fourth time I've ever worn it for any period of time, and it rather started to fall apart by the end of the party. It was definitely a big hit, though.

Getting there was half the fun. I got the train down to Oxford in the afternoon without too much difficulty, and met Jenny there. But the electronic displays at Oxford station didn't so much as mention the 7:24 train that was supposed to take us to Hanborough, ten minutes down the line. I asked someone at the station about it and he assured me that the train was running, the screens just weren't showing it for some reason. Immediately after this, it did appear on the screens with the information that it had been cancelled. They had to announce repeatedly over the tannoy that the train was in fact running normally. You'd think a big place like Oxford would run its own electronic displays, but obviously not.

Anyway, I got into costume before getting on the train, just so as to conceal my identity properly. Jenny also put on her butterfly mask, so we made an interesting couple. Then another train pulled into the platform and about 25 Santa Clauses got off. It was all rather surreal. A few people on the train were convinced that Death was stalking them when I got on, but I refrained from claiming anyone's soul, seeing as it was Christmas. Then it was simply a matter of getting from the station to Ed's place. Which you'd think wouldn't be a problem - we even had directions.

There were five more costumed partygoers on the train, so we all got together to follow Ed's instructions - his suggested route involved crossing the railway track, climbing an embankment, getting over a barbed wire fence, and trudging across two very muddy fields in pitch darkness. We ended up phoning him to say "we're in a field, and there's a hedge. How do we get to your place from here?" It turned out that another alternate route would have been to walk along the road from the station, but the assault course approach at least served as a nice ice-breaker. Three of Ed's friends among our group all assumed that I was someone called Bill. Apparently we have exactly the same voice. I find this quite intriguing - obviously my fellow Flowerpot Man is out there somewhere, and I've just never met him.

Anyway, we made it in the end to the Cooke family home, which covers roughly three-quarters of Oxfordshire. The extremely cool and enormous house had been further enhanced by being converted into a series of tunnels made of sheets, cushions and tables. With Ed's sisters on makeup duty with orders to forcibly disguise anyone who turned up looking recognisable, Ed himself greeting the guests dressed as a buxom woman, and large vats of sangria available, a merry time was had by all. From the memory world, the party had also attracted Josh, as Captain America, and Lukas, as a nineteenth-century swashbuckler, plus a huge range of Ed's friends, acquaintances and complete stranger gatecrashers. There was a whole sheep roasting merrily on the bonfire outside.

Josh (to a prep-school friend of Ed's): Ed seems to still be friends with a surprising number of people he was at school with.
Me: Oh, that's how these public-school types are. Sorry, I'm a northerner with working-class pretensions.

I do tend to feel a little bit self-consciously proud-to-be-common when I'm in the vicinity of the upper classes. I was all prepared to be secretly contemptuous and scathing when faced with drawled anecdotes about people's fathers and the troubles they had with the big chunks of western Europe they owned and the wealthy and influential people they associated with, but it turned out that Ed's friends, like Ed himself, are a great bunch of guys. They did come out with a few anecdotes like that between them, though.

After a feast of mutton, pheasant and chicken which turned out to be not only edible but actually quite nice, Ed announced that since we had in attendance two of the world's best speed-card memorisers, there was going to be a challenge of me against Lukas, everyone had to pick a side to back and the losers had to go out and build up the bonfire. Lukas in particular was unwilling to do it, since he hadn't memorised a pack of cards for more than a year, but despite our insisting that we'd only do it if Ed could remember the names of everybody in the room, the challenge went ahead. People picked a side based largely on which side of the room they happened to be sitting on, and Ed gave us a minute each to memorise a pack. Lukas announced that he couldn't do it, so it ended up as me against Ed instead. And, to my deep shame, I couldn't remember the 17th card in my pack, so Ed's side won. I passed it off as a birthday present.

We adjourned outside for fireworks and dancing around the bonfire (I refrained from joining in - I have a history of knee injuries in Oxford, and didn't fancy mud-frolicking), then people scattered around the extensive house and estates. I was dozing on a beanbag in front of one of the two log fires when the lure of brilliantly-played guitar and piano music from upstairs overcame any tiredness, so I went and joined in a singalong around the grand piano. Ed's friend Ross is one of those staggeringly-talented pianists who can play anything you care to hum to him, and I'm wildly envious of people like that. When he had finally been allowed to stop playing, and after Ed had responded to the suggestion of a cup of tea by insisting that we compose theme tunes for each variety of tea that might be available, we played increasingly surreal games around the kitchen table, ending with 'amusing binary numbers', before I went off to get an hour or so's sleep at six in the morning, somewhere without too many people in sleeping bags scattered around.

When I got up again around eight, Jenny (who never goes to bed at this kind of party) was tidying up the kitchen with Ed's mum. If upper-class contemporaries inspire peasants'-revolt kind of feelings in me, upper-class parents just terrify me. I always feel like some kind of intruder, sitting in the kitchen under false pretences when I should be out tending to the livestock or sleeping in the barn or something. They've got an aga and a teapot and go out to feed the hens in the morning. Still, we had a friendly chat and listened to the cricket on the radio as people started to emerge.

I'm probably confusing things more than necessary by calling Jenny Jenny here, seeing as everyone at the party knew her as Katy (it's her real name, after all), except for Ed's parents who thought she was called Beth. Anyway, Ed's dad gave us a lift down to the station, where we eventually got the train - it had been delayed by striking a bird and cracking its windscreen, forcing it to be taken out of service at Oxford. My connecting train up to Derby also wasn't appearing on the screens, but it turned out that it genuinely had been cancelled and I had to get a rail-replacement bus to Banbury. But apart from that, I made it back to Derby safe and sound. Now I just need to catch up on some sleep and go to the supermarket and tidy up the flat before my brother comes round tomorrow. Hectic social life.

Oh, and 'Grunch' is the name of the horror mask.