Yasushi Nirasawa’s (1963 - 2016) career spanned garage kits, video games, film, and comics. In the realm of TV he was particularly prolific in his work for the Kamen Rider series in Japan. In the English speaking world however, the first time viewers got to see his unique character designs on TV came courtesy of Sci-Fi Channel UK.
In Archangel Thunderbird, the demon Baal (voiced by Sandman scribe Neil Gaiman), is unleashing hellish destruction upon the earth, and only Dr. Churchill (Doug Bradley of Hellraiser fame) knows how to stop him. This entails harnessing the power of a schizophrenic woman hanging from a bunch of wires to summon Archangels from the Necronomicon. The short climaxes as a team of gargantuan angels do battle in London against a demonic dinosaur for the fate of the world. Archangel Thunderbird aired on the UK version of the Sci-Fi Channel in 1998, and if this story sounds like a 2000 AD comic, that’s not a coincidence. Archangel Thunderbird was written by Alan Grant, writer for comics such as Strontium Dog, Judge Dredd, and probably best known in the US for his work on Lobo for DC. The project was co-produced by 2000 AD and Vertigo artist Tony Luke (1966 - 2016), who was also responsible for bringing Nirasawa on board for the project. In 1993, a time before manga had truly entwined comic readers in the US and UK, Luke’s comic Dominator traveled from the UK to Japan in the manga magazine Kodansha Afternoon. Luke would go on to form Renga Media to realize his more ambitious project, and which had Nirasawa as a partner.
At this point in time Nirasawa’s presence in the west was virtually non-existent, except for the game 1991 Sega Genesis game, Beast Wrestler, which featured character designs and art by him. Tasked with creating the titular archangels, Nirasawa looked to his youth. According to the art book Niragram, Nirasawa used a Gatchaman inspired bird motif and a similar team dynamic for the angels (a slender male ala Ken, a muscular bruiser akin to Ryu, and a shapely female creature reminiscent of Jun).
Word of warning: this short has a LOT of flashing lights
Shot on a cheap-as-chips budget, Nirasawa’s creature designs still shine through in the stop motion animated models, even in the few shots where it looks like a PA is just rapidly wiggling them in front of the camera. Tony Luke’s goal was to create a fusion of British science fiction with Japanese kaiju and garage kit aesthetics. It wears on its sleeve a love of British genre fiction such as Doctor Who (the character Dr. Churchill is most of the time just referred to as “Doctor”), The Prisoner (the last line in the film is “be seeing you”), and miniatures evocative of Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet.
An early short by Tony Luke based on the comic Nemesis The Warlock
At times this short is pretty sloppy, but there is an earnestness to it that saves it. Tony Luke, at a very early age was diving headlong into the world of anime and making his own stop motion animated films based on Nemesis The Warlock. Tony Luke was tapped into the world of Japanese science fiction and fantasy art to have the forethought to bring Nirasawa onto the project. Archangel Thunderbird, warts and all, is basically an SMH short film; a garage kit movie.