In the modern era it’s easy to think that anime has always just “been around.” Digital streams are omnipresent and most shows are available at the click of a button, within hours, if not minutes of their airing in Japan. For now, though, I’d like to take you back to a different era. Before we had an entire niche culture that catered to us in the west; before the numerous on-demand streaming outlets, simulcasts, and simuldubs; before 50-inch high definition televisions were the norm. Heck, before even the advent of laser read disc technology. Let’s take a look all the way back, to the dark old days of the 1980s.

I grew up in California’s Central Valley region. In those days, if you were lucky and the conditions were just right, you could pick up broadcasts from as far as the San Francisco Bay area. Indeed, repeats of Speed Racer, Star Blazers, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and Battle of the Planets were available on our 18-inch television, so long as you positioned the rabbit ears correctly and said a little prayer.

Then Voltron happened, and shortly after that came Robotech. For a robot-obsessed eight-year-old, both were incredible. Giant robot lions, jets that transformed into robots, missile barrages, space battles, laser swords danced across the screen. Best of all, they were on the regular channels, twice a day!

The only bump in the road to anime enjoyment was school. While we could usually get home fast enough in the afternoon to catch most of that block, the morning blocks were pretty much impossible. I’ve never been much of a morning person. If my mom was a lucky person, then we’d be actually up, fed, and dressed in time to catch the bus on most mornings.

My mom, who taught me how to read with comic books and Tolkien; who introduced me to Adam West as Batman and Star Trek reruns; who found Robotech and Voltron repeats. Who somehow managed to scrape the money together to buy a VCR in the late ‘80s so her two boys could watch earthlings fight and marry Zentradi when they got home from school… and so she could too. I don’t know what sparked her love of all things science fiction and fantasy. I just know that she passed it along to me from an age before I can even really remember otherwise.

In the winter of ’91, she brought home a VHS from some hole-in-the-wall video rental store. It was like a Blockbuster, but with 200% more dudes who smoked unfiltered cigarettes and all the titles cost $40. The show was titled “Locke the Superpower.” I’m pretty sure they couldn’t use the actual name Locke the Superman due to DC Comics being extremely vigorous about protecting its copyright, but I digress.

Locke, runtime 120 minutes, is directed by Hiroshi Fukutomi, who founded Studio Comet. Afterwards, he went on to direct, among other things, Fatal Fury: Legend of the Hungry Wolf, the Battle Angel OVA, and most recently Suzuka. The feature was written by Atsushi Yamatoya, who also wrote two Lupin III films: Mystery of Mamo and Legend of the Gold of Babylon.

Locke contains all the things that make ‘80s sci-fi anime great: psionic powers, flying cars, space travel, ga-lactic civilization, laser blasters, and more. It also has the things that make it not-so-great: rough animation consistency, poorly drawn backgrounds, extremely thin characterizations, and a heavy focus on the male gaze. The original release by Celebrity Home Entertainment was heavily edited, and removed the most egregious graphic violence and nudity. It’s also 30 minutes shorter, so…

Locke the Superman sets its stage at a school, Kahn University, which was founded by a mysterious eugenicist benefactor named Lady Kahn. The facility, which is filled to the brim with proto-fascist psionicists called ESPers, appears to be attended primarily by young women in leotards. Beneath the facade, though, Kahn University is being used as front to mount a takeover of the galaxy. To achieve this goal, Lady Kahn has enlisted a band of powerful ESPers, each “as powerful as a Federal battleship”, led by the powerful ESPer leader Cordelia. At the forefront is Jessica, a talented, brainwashed young lady who has the ability to nullify other ESPers’ talents.
In those days, if you were lucky and the conditions were just right, you could pick up broadcasts from as far as the San Francisco Bay area

It’s up to Locke, the titular reluctant hero of ambiguous age and power level, to put an end to these plans. Locke, who sports a hair color not found in nature; who got his hair done at the Rick Hunter School of Cosmetology. Locke, who, despite being at least hundreds if not thousands of years old, doesn’t realize when one of his sheep is in labor.

I’ll leave the synopsis there, as it’s pretty much impossible for me to be objective about Locke The Superman. I’ve seen it literally hundreds of times, and went as far as to spend a relatively large amount of money for the title on DVD in 2007, when it was long out of print.

Locke doesn’t have to go it alone, though. He is joined by the brave Ryu Yamaki, Director General of the Intelligence division of the Galactic Federal Army. Yamaki’s biggest asset is that he mainly exists as a walking piece of exposition. Also he likes to ask questions of the Locke like “are you Locke?” literally minutes after watching a video compilation of the titular superman.

At the time, my mother was very sick, and we would hang out in her hospice room to watch anime series and OVAs that I bought on Amazon or burned from VHS to DVD on her little 13-inch personal DVD player. Akira, Bubblegum Crisis, Ghost in the Shell, Robotech, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, and, of course, Locke. She passed a lifelong love of all things geeky on to me, but specifically always encouraged my love of anime and writing.

Thanks, Mom.

Discotek Media re-released Locke The Superman on DVD in 2012. Their release includes both the uncut subtitled original, as well as Celebrity Home Entertainment’s edited dub. Folks who are interested can pick a copy at major retailers, including Amazon, Right Stuf, and Best Buy.

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