In the 80's, while we were going nuts over The Real Ghostbusters, Dino Riders, and Bone Age, in Japan an electronics amusement company named Konami was involved with a few animation studios, Studio Pierrot, one of them. As time went on, the studios produced a few anime to push games for Konami, such as...something...something else, Salamander, Goemon, and most recently Tokimeki Memorial. You can still find some of the Konami anime if you swing by the Japanese video rental stores in midtown Manhattan, or if you ask for it by name in Chinatown.

On Monday of this past week of 2-12-2001, I had discovered a new promised land called Book Off. Of the numerous rare gems on the rack (including the Goemon anime) was the ancient-looking Salamander video. I jumped. I first heard about it through the Organization for the Preservation of Classic Forms of Gaming in 1998 or 99. It's been on my anime wish list ever since. The price sticker read $10.00. Later that week, after turning in 5 barely used videos for cash, the tape ended up costing $1.

This is the original video. It is neither subtitled or dubbed, comes in the original case with an embossed Konami logo inside the white, rigid, clamshell cover, and pamphlets which smell of age advertise "Megazone Two Three" and Salamander, which notes that the character designer has worked on Macross and Megazone 23. There's also a postcard to send away for a "Konami original telephone card present" which the previous owner never followed up on.

To clear up questions, a few words on Salamander. It is the Japanese original of the game that was introduced here as the Gradius pseudo-sequal Life Force in the late 80's for your Nintendo Entertainment System. In this game, like Nemesis and Gradius, you blast at innumerable alien ship hoardes while snatching power up capsules until you're equipped with enough firepower to take out the Air Force, the Japanese Strategic Self Defense Force and several ID4 city bombers. WITH their shields still activated. Okay, maybe I stretched that last one. At the end of each level you square off against an exceptionally big creature, such as a big bug eyed brain, a space ship with many swinging arms, a bullet spitting skull, or a fiery dragon. I've played Life Force on several occaisions, but...I return it to Jason promptly, as the game doesn't have the same magic for me as Parodius or Nemesis. Still a classic play with memorable tunes, however.

We begin with a small demo of the familiar wavy Konami logo, and then some imagery of solar prominences bursting ahead of us. Comes the Salamander logo in a huge blaze, then the credits roll over closeups of what appears to be a dragon sculpture.

The anime begins with a scout ship orbiting the home planet of one princely Lord British. Hovering above the planet upside down is what is referred to as the Space Obelisk. It looks like a black stone with a Moai face on it and has a medium length conical structure to it, ending with a blunt end. The crew brings the Space Obelisk home, and as it is being prepared with some heavy duty equipment, the damaged relic splits in half.

Soon after, a large planet appears close to home and dark clouds descend upon Lord British's kingdom. From time to time we see a huge dragon awaking or swimming in its magma bath. The planet, which is referred to as Salamander, causes great disturbances to the home planet, such as crust splitting earthquakes which flood British's kingdom before shaking it to pieces. Lord British has a counsel with his advisors and they decide to send their army to the planet. The stage one theme from Salamander backs up the short lived incident, involving the strike force becoming annihilated in stage 1 just before meeting the brain boss.

We see another blue planet and three mysterious ships approach. After holding another counsel three shadowy figures enter the hall. They are Dan, Eddie, and Stephanie. Let's call them Team Gradius, for lack of Japanese language knowledge. They offer to assist Lord British, and we are taken down to a secret lab where one of the drones, one of those orange ships that give you 100 points, lies in wait. After poking it a bit, the automatic drone blasts away the poker. Afterward, they review some already obtained information on Salamander, and Eddie gets into a little tiff with Lord British.

Dan and Stephaine along with Lord British launch into space, Eddie deciding to stay back. The three approach the planet and enter an open crater, and just as one of the failed strike ships slips off an impaling rib into the metal carcasses below, our team is blasting through the first area, dodging all the ribs and putting baddies away with thier bullets and missiles. (Neither Options, lasers, nor Force Fields were used in the anime.) They find the brain and kill it with about 1 hit.

Next, they pass over an ancient ruin area, and they take care of business. In the ancient rubble, a split Space Obelisk blindly observes. They fly over many many ribs and meet a HUGE skull which they vaporize in a few seconds.

Next and last area, it's flame time, as loopy prominences lick out at our team. They finally make visual contact with the cycloptic Salamander core, and just as they approach, the GIGANTIC lava dragon reveals itself! Dan, Stephanie, and Lord British give it their all against the monster, but as it spits flares at everyone, it simply absorbs shots! When it seems they can't win, Eddie appears! After some evasive maneuvers, Eddie, who has some issues I'm unaware of, decides to fly into the dragon's gigantic open maw. He lets off several shots and missles while inside, and as we see, he and his ship become crushed within the belly of the beast, whose intestines burst out as the doomed kamikaze ship explodes.

The team destroys Salamander's core, and everything begins to collapse. The dragon tries to revive itself, but it falls again, finally dead. After a drastic escape past the ancient ruins, it's the traditional scene of ships wisping away from the shaky planet, just as it explodes. Back home, Lord British thanks Team Gradius for their help, and though Stephanie is sad for losing Eddie, she explains she'll be okay. I must've missed something. Team Gradius flies off to their home planet, and this anime has been presented to you by Konami, in the year 1988. Thank you very much for watching.

Cool. The character design looks kinda familiar. According to my notes, the character designer, whose name consists of several mysterious kanji characters, has worked on Megazone 23, Macross, and as I've deduced, Macross II, Gunbuster (Aim for theTop!), and any other anime I've seen with such a distinctive style.

We have mecha designers! Good work, yet they've made the spindly Lord British and Gradius fighters indescernible from those on the box art we're accustomed to. The enemy drones look familiar, though.

Music! Many of the familiar Life Force tunes are here, including the immortal stage 1 anthem, the boss theme and the inter-stage theme, which are the only three from the game familiar to me.

Overall, I have to give this anime an 85 out of 100 rating. A high rating, due to its rarity, and because I am a Konami and shooter fan, but not 100 since the action takes a while to build, and there's slightly more than its fair share of plot development and formal royal oshaberi (chatterbox) going on. Your average non-Konami-game playing Digimon/Pokeycrapmon/Evangelion/Card Captor Sakura/Dragon Ball Z fan would probably rate it low, but as an anime scholar, if you dig the character design style you might get a kick out of it as well. Well done, Konami and Studio Pierrot.

Pictures, pictures!

Video package front- Lord British and the crew, brandishing weapons they never use in the anime, are ready to kick some foreboding dragon tail!

Package back - From top to bottom on the left: Dan, Space Obelisk, a sad Stephanie, and Lord British. Dan poses over his spindly fighter in the center. From top to bottom on the right, Lord British ready for action, Dan winks, Lord British's advisor dude, and Eddie. Yeah, I have a terrible scanner. (...that is, I HAD at the time of this writing...)

Video tape- Yes, I scanned the video cassette itself. AND WHAT?! (The Jasrac stamp duplication security measure is seen in action here, as well.)

Salamander notes- One of the little things that came in the tape. Describes the story, staff, cast, etc.

In store now!- when you're done reading about Salamander's cast, Konami wants you to buy something for Gradius, Twinbee, Contra, and Konami Best Vol. 1.

Megazone 23- plugging Megazone 23, from the Salamander's distributor and character designer. The yellow rectangle is a fossil impression left by the small piece of tape which was once attached 12 years ago. It finally fell off before I scanned it.

Salamander Tereka purezento!- If I were to send this away, would I have a genuine Konami-issue Salamander telephone card? Nah.

Animation production, Studio Pierrot (My Dear Marie, Neoranga)
Character Designer: (can't read the kanji, but has worked on Megazone 23, Macross, Macross II, Aim for the Top, Macross 7, etc.)
Music: (can't read the kanji, but will consult a good friend of mine for both missing infos.)
Salamander game (C) Konami 1987, film (C) Konami 1988. Color, Hi-Fi Stereo, 50 minutes, 12,800 Yen.

After they spent rougly $130 on Salamander, Team Gradius
went back to the Miscellaneous section of Dracula's Curse THE PAGE!

Last Edited: 7-6-2002