The shape of anime to come

So what of the future? Skimming the list, we see a general continuation of the same themes we’ve had so far i.e. sex ‘n’ violence (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course). However, there are a few marginally less cheerily gratuitous entries on offer. The first up – alphabetically, anyway – is Area 88 (above). The manga was released in English (it was one of the first I read) and is about a pilot, betrayed by his best friend into service as a mercenary in a desert war. It’s best feature is great action sequences, which may explain why it Inspired the very successful arcade/computer game, UN Squadron.

Proof that the Japanese aren’t averse to ripping off American ideas is seen in Black Magic M-66, which bears a certain resemblance to ‘Terminator’; a killer robot has to be stopped before it reaches it’s target. I personally reckon it may actually be better, Arnie is definitely less realistic than 24 hand painted cels per second. For collateral damage, however, you can’t beat the Dirty Pair: trouble-shooting babes (with the emphasis on ‘trouble’) for a pan-galactic group. They’ve a great record in solving cases; pity about the inevitable repair bills. No solar system is safe.

Those keen on the subject of babes should also check out Gall Force, best described as a cute version of “Blake’s 7”. An all-female race is engaged in a war with their deadly enemies, across most of space, and a great deal of time. The word “epic” comes to mind. Back on more familiar ground i.e. sex ‘n’ violence, there’s Goku: Midnight Eye. A private detective has a computer link-up in his eye, giving him access to any information in the world instantly. Needless to say, he doesn’t use it to play the Stock Market.

One especially interesting title is Rumic World, an umbrella covering one-off stories by Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2. These range from the very silly – ‘Supergal’, about a female wrestler turned superheroic policewoman – to the downright strange, with ‘Mermaid Forest’ being a distinctly dark tale with hints of cannibalism. But for sheer gloom, there are none worse/better than Tombstone For Fireflies. Slash your wrists to this one, an undeniably well-made but depressing as hell story, set in the last days of World War II as an orphaned boy and girl struggle to survive. It starts off bleak and goes downhill from there.

The lighter side of death, relatively, can be seen in Vampire Princess Miyu, probably more interesting, and certainly more uniquely Japanese than ‘Vampire Hunter D’ about a vampire who only drinks blood from those who want eternal undeath. Sheer atmosphere, minimal gore, superbly handled. Heard rumours this will be renamed “Miyu, Princess of the Bloodsuckers”. Hope not. Finally, but certainly not least, there’s Wings of Honneamise. Set on an alternate world just getting into space, like “The Right Stuff”, it concentrates on characters instead of spaceships, to excellent effect. It also has a soundtrack by Oscar winner Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Of course, there are some not-so-good items on view (Sound FX: editor placing head on block and handing mob of enraged anime fans the axe). For example, there’s Gundam, which is giant robots fighting. Ok, there is a more to it than that – but not much. From what I’ve seen (quite enough, thank you), it’s a triumph of obsessive technology over plot and character, designed to cynically sell model kits. Or else it’s “a vast sprawling epic as space colonists fight for independence from earth in the near future, featuring an incredible range of characters and extremely complicated plots, too many series, movies etc. to be classifiable!”. Hmm….

Another overrated series, IMHO, is Record of Lodoss War. The basic problem with it for me is that it is all familiar territory A saga of the battle between immense opposing forces of good and (you guessed it) evil. Having played AD&D for four years, flighty elves, dour dwarves and brave fighters are not exactly novel. You can almost hear the rolling of percentiles throughout each episode. A party of adventurers seek, oh, the usual stuff: kidnapped princesses, villages threatened by goblins, etc. I’ve not been able to take this sort of story seriously since I started reading Terry Pratchett. Still, the animation is ok and the music – a mix of nicked and original – is used to good effect.

And then there’s Robotech. Oh dear. This is three totally separate series (Macross, Mospeada and Southern Cross) forced, edited, and crammed into one show. The man behind this is Carl Macek, a man so hated by anime fans in America, his family has received death threats, I kid you not. His reputation for pointless tampering is legendary – titles, character names, plots, all are subject to his whim, but naturally he “knows better” than those who actually produced the stuff. I have met the man. I was not impressed. He claims to be attempting to popularise anime – for popularise, read “lowest common denominator”, and you can imagine how low that is in America!

But don’t think Island World have cornered the market. There’re rumours of other players entering the market, and over the page you’ll find a quick sample of some excellent bits of anime that I’ve not heard word of anyone acquiring, in reverse order of impressiveness, from good to superb.

  • 7. Luna Varga (Fantasy/Action/Humour) – Girl with large sword gets dinosaur stuck up her bottom. I’m not kidding.
  • 6. Sol Bianca (Action/SF) – All girl group of pirates taken on the empire. Even more “Babe’s Seven” than “Gall Force”!
  • 5. Robot Carnival (SF-ish) – Compilation film, on the theme of robots, varying from the abstract to the horrific, via humour. drama and Katsuhiro Otomo’s black-edge technology.
  • 4. Video Girl Ai (Comedy/Raunch/Drama) – Thanks to a malfunctioning VCR, a girl from a softporn tape comes alive and makes life “interesting” for the guy who rented her. Six episodes, the final one is very strange, with staircases of splintered glass, etc, and was pulled from the schedules at Anime Day 3, allegedly deemed too dodgy to show!
  • 3. Nadia (Drama/Action/Humour/SF) – Probably the best TV animation ever. 39 episodes, loosely based on “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. Channel 4 nearly bought it, but found it too intense.
  • 2. Outlanders (SF/Humour) – Cramming 1000+ pages of manga into 45 minutes, with all the characters and humour of Dark Horse’s translation, just minus 90% of the plot! A fine example of BiMBO anime – that’s Babes in Minimal Battle Outfits. (pic above)
  • 1. Silent Mobius (Horror) – A four-pack of female “cyber-psychics” battle icky cross-dimensional monsters trying to break through to our world. Cinematic in scope, scale and style.

[Editor: of course, it’s pure coincidence all contain cute babes…]

Anime Update

Typical, wait ages for an alternative to Manga, then along come two at once. First, Koseki release two volumes of “Macross II“. Must admit I didn’t like this at all, thanks to a rotten dub (will companies ever realise this does make a difference?), but they deserve cool points for nicking ‘Legend of the Overfiend 3’ from Manga, who’ll be seething at losing their best seller. More promisingly, March sees Crusader Video offer 3 episodes of the strange-but-cute “Super Cat Girl: Nuku Nuku” for 12.99; more next issue, but watch out for the Liverpudlian accents!

Further Manga tapes have come out, and are certainly value for money, most at £8.99 for 50 minutes. Fortunately for the page-count, the only new titles are ‘Wicked City’ & ‘Fire Tripper’, reviewed elsewhere. Otherwise, it’s extra Freeman, Megalopolis and Arislan; none deviate much from my first impressions and I’m looking forward, in varying degrees, to all three continuing. Arislan looks more and more like a purchasing error, steadfastly failing to contain the Manga requisites of sexy violence or violent sex (despite Part One’s box blurb!). It’s interesting evidence of the difference between “dubbing” and “voice-acting”; the dubbing is good, lip-synch matches very well, but the voice-acting leaves a bit to be desired, most notably Arislan himself who sounds as if he has a plum in his mouth and a dick up his ass. However, producer Haruki Kadokawa was recently charged in Japan with coke trafficking, threatening both his live-action and anime produce, which also includes ‘Silent Mobius’.

Rumour had it Manga licensed 100 titles, though this seems unlikely to me, because at current rate, even not allowing for multi-part series, that’d keep them going into the 21st century. The bad news for those hoping to see a kinder, gentler Manga is that the most mentioned title therein was Cream Lemon, the undisputed kings of “More sleaze! Make the girls look younger!” anime. Put it this way; ‘Pandora’ (TC10) was a Cream Lemon film. Also, Manga now advertise in places like ‘Penthouse’, alongside the “listen while I play with myself” phonelines…

It’s strange, because the live-action schedule doesn’t go for the lowest common jugular (not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that, of course, but anime is getting an undeserved bad rep), it heads out to the beautifully left field. ‘Tetsuo’ 1+2 are deeply strange movies, hard to watch for longer than five minutes, while future titles include ‘Gunhed’ and the superb Takeshi duo, ‘Violent Cop’ and ‘Sonatine’. The release of class acts like these, treated with respect (presumably they won’t be dubbed, or at least, not by people with fake Oriental accents), make it a shame the anime line is so hit-and-miss – for every ‘Dominion’, an ‘Odin’. Even stranger is ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’, screened at Christmas on BBC, part-financed by Manga; technically awesome, and nigh impossible to work out what was going on.

On the import front, definitely worth mentioning is ‘Battle Angel’ (above); linked to the comic ‘Battle Angel Alita’, this is an excellent pair of OAVs, technically superb, and greatly entertaining too. Set in a future where the elite live in an enormous floating city and the rest scrabble for survival on the rubbish tip underneath, it details the flowering of a cyborg bounty hunter as she comes to terms with her nature. Dramatic and messy, I vote it the best of 1993. Think it’s scheduled for a May release by Manga, and it’ll be one of their finest – dubbing permitting of course…