The Curator of Schlock #28 by Jeffrey Shuster
Long Lost Anime.
We continue Space Opera month with Lensman, the 1984 Japanese animated adaptation of the classic science fiction novel Galactic Patrol by E. E. “Doc” Smith. Let’s get this out of the way right now. I know the movie takes liberties with the source material. I’ve read the source material myself and know that Kimball Kinnison isn’t a farmboy, that Worzel didn’t need a lens to be a Lensman, that Lensmen aren’t chosen out of fate, etc. We’re going to judge this movie based on its own merits.
The movie starts out with a bunch of alien no-good-nicks known as The Boskone wreaking havoc on the Galactic Patrol, the protectors of civilization in the known universe. Among these protectors are the Lensmen, super police officers with glass discs attached to their hands. It’s the lenses that give these officers psychic powers to use over their enemies. They’re also handy for storing information and one of these Lensmen actually managed to discover the location of the “Devil Planet,” the Boskone’s secret base.
Unfortunately, before this Lensman is able to get this information back to the Galactic Patrol, his spaceship is shot down over a farm planet. With his last dying breath, he transfers his lens over to a young man by the name of Kimball Kinnison. It’s now the task of our young, inexperienced hero to get that information back to the Galactic Patrol. He’ll be joined by companions to help him on his quest: Buskirk, a bear hugging space smuggler who serves as the comic relief, Worzel, a winged, lizard Lensman, Clarissa MacDougal, Galactic Patrol nurse and potential love interest for Kim, and some Mohawk donning intergalactic DJ whose name escapes me.
Okay. So far Lensman coming as a Star Wars rip-off, but at least it’s a decent Star Wars rip-off. My issues with Starcrash last week were the terrible special effects, but unlike that disaster, Lensman offers plenty of eye candy. It’s a wonderful example of mid 80s anime production. Every spaceship and every alien planet is crafted with painstaking attention to detail. Plus, there’s an added bonus of early computer animation mixed in with the traditional cel animation. There’s a scene towards the end where Kimball Kinnison is fighting computer-animated objects in a maze in what looks to be a tribute to Disney’s Tron.
Unfortunately, Lensman was never given a DVD release, due most likely to the fact that the Smith estate hates the movie. This is understandable considering how much it deviated from the original, but it’s still a piece of animation that should be preserved. And until that Ron Howard’s Lensman project gets off the ground, this is the only Lensman we’ve got.
Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.