Written by Jonathan Wojcik
That Time The Thing Was an Anime Character
Which one of you was it that told me to watch Space Family Carlvinson? It was actually at least three people, and I don't remember which order, but thank you. Not only was this one of the most charming and lovable anime OVA's I've ever seen in my entire life, but the designs of its main characters were all so good that I'm downright mad it wasn't one of the privileged few anime brought stateside by Sci-Fi Channel when I was a child. They had Robot Carnival, they had Vampire Hunter D, they had Zeiram, but seeing a Fiend Without a Face as the lovable comic relief of a main cast would have thrilled me to bits back in the day!
Well, alright...it thrills me to bits now, too, but as a matter of fact we are NOT here to talk about Tarbo, as adorable as he may be.
First, a quick synopsis to get you up to speed: Space Family Carlvinson is the story of an intergalactic acting troupe who one day witness a mysterious starship crash landing into a nearby planet. The ship turns out to be from an entirely unknown civilization, which you MAY have guessed is actually our own world, and only a single infant human survives the wreckage.
The band of robots and aliens feel a great deal of sympathy for the orphan, and they assume her people will surely send some sort of search party after their lost starship, so they agree to stick around on the planet and protect her until anybody shows up to take her home.
The plan does not work out. Not exactly, anyway. Weeks turn into months and months turn into years, and in no time the troupe have settled down indefinitely as the surrogate family to a little girl they'd never dream of giving up. But will they one day have to???
That question isn't answered by the OVA, because it's really only an adaptation of one story from the original manga, and offers only brief glimpses of some of the manga's other characters, one of which appears only momentarily during an obstacle course sequence, and the design is pretty jarring:
...Excuse me?? PARdon? What is that?? Who is that??? You spring a design like this on us for all of 1.5 seconds without ANY explanation?!
That question is answered in the same animated special, when we later see this scruffy, anthropomorphic dog working outside a movie theater for another fleeting second...and then he turns around and he sneezes.
CARPENTER!! Like JOHN CARPENTER! Like JOHN CARPENTER'S "THE THING!" See that?! That's not a dog! It's a copy!
Lo and behold, John Carpenter is in fact this character's entire name, and there is much, much more of him in the original manga. There are even some entire stories devoted to him, but we're going to skip over the first here (as fun as it is) and go straight to the second one, for reasons that will be obvious as soon as you see its cover.
We've always seen that John works the town cinema, but it's not until this particular story that we learn he's actually a film director himself, known specifically for movies so horrifying that they often have to be censored or even entirely pulled. Of COURSE that's what The Thing gets up to! In fact...is it possible that this literally is the John Carpenter who directed The Thing? He was secretly a real alien, all along? And then he cast himself in a horror movie?! Which for some reason played on the planet Earth and probably exaggerated the heck out of his powers?!
I'm just making stuff up here myself. I'm just headcanoning. It's hard not to when you're presented with something this fun that raises this many open questions.
We're not about to bootleg an entire manga for you, but we will review this story through select scenes of interest...such as John's accidental recreation of The Thing's famous "Spider Head" scene, all while he sleeps! A scene in another, later story does inform us that the embryonic critter in John's stomach houses his actual brain, so we can consider that his "true" form, perhaps, while his detachable head is something he can remotely control and contains his feeding mechanisms.
To be honest, there was a time when I was younger that I might have been disappointed John spends most of his time in the form of a cartoon dog, but I really don't know what the heck was wrong with me. I guess it takes time to start appreciating the little things in life, and savoring the things you enjoy in subtler, lighter doses. If John was always a tentacled fleshbeast or his "default" form was too cool, I think I'd actually find him slightly less interesting as a character. It's so much more fun that he's usually just this John Arbuckle looking Scottish Terrier, and then something so inoccuous just falls apart into worm-guts every now and then.
Anyway, they're waking John up from his nap here because he has a visitor...
This is John's old friend and rival film director, John Landis, which you might vaguely recognize as the real name of a comedy director. It's interesting that he also looks like the same kind of dog man most of the time. Is that species-wide, or just the form that these two pals chose?
Whatever the case, Landis has always looked down on Carpenter for only ever directing cheap, B-grade horror fare, which supposedly never lasts more than two weeks in theaters. Landis calls him "John My Only Hit Was Halloween Carpenter," and Carpenter retorts that Christine as a matter of fact lasted one week, so not only is John Carpenter The Thing himself in this universe, but most of his movies bombed.
Landis didn't really just drop by to be a jerkoff, though. His own film crew later approaches Carpenter and tells him that Landis has been in a terrible creative slump, and is just too proud to admit that he wants to see Carpenter direct a new movie so he can feel some fresh inspiration.
They unfortunately go on to remind Carpenter yet again that he only ever directs bad horror.
Taking it all on as a personal challenge, it only takes John a day to get to work on a brand new movie, and he's got his film crew lugging around an enormous animatronic xenomorph. Accused of going straight back to his old ways, he assures everyone that this is no horror-movie monster at all, but simply the Evil Queen for his adaptation of Snow White!
.....AND THE SEVEN DWARVES!
It's too bad these hairy-legged pumpkins are nothing but costumes and not some real, actual in-universe alien species, but at least it means they're probably something John himself designed, so it's good to know he's a creative mind after my own heart.
Something's missing from their performance, however. In that last panel, he's instructing his actors to somehow "do it more like this"...which he believes will make them "cuter and more youthful." That certainly explains a lot about him, including the fact that in his first focal story, he tries to "cheer up" the little human girl with "funny faces" and the whole town thinks he tried to murder and devour her.
Here is more of John educating his film crew on how he believes the Seven Dwarves should be performed. I agree, John. Finally somebody GETS IT.
Next, we have John's Snow White, who seems ordinary enough. Pretty much just an android of a human princess! Why a human princess, specifically? I guess we've seen some near-human aliens anyway. Quite a few of them, in fact.
The princess prop, however, is not what it seems either...
We only get this single glimpse of what his Snow White can do, but we can guess just how glorious it must be in the flesh.
Unfortunately, Mr. Carpenter still isn't quite satisfied, and he wants Snow White to also do it more like "this."
A few nights later, John Carpenter's Snow White has its first showing in theaters. We see only this single shot of what that's like, but the audience is largely confused, unsettled and repulsed...all except for Landis sitting there shedding a single tear at one of the most beautiful works of art he has ever seen.
In a touching twist, it turns out Landis really always admired the way Carpenter directs what he wants, the way he wants, no matter the naysayers. No matter the patrons throwing up in their seats. He knew all along that Carpenter would just churn out another grotesque spectacle, but it was just what he needed to fuel his own creative spark once more.
...Even if, in the end, John Carpenter's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves proves grisly and vile enough to be yanked back out of theaters in record time.
We actually still aren't finished reading Space Family Carlvinson ourselves, but the story of John Carpenter The Thing and his horror fixation felt like a perfect fit for one of my Halloween posts, and the best possible way to bring Space Family Carlvinson to bogleech.com
The manga isn't easy to find, but you can buy it digitally and untranslated HERE, while a subbed version of the OVA is more readily available if you just give it a google!
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