For reasons of space, extended reviews are only given for those deemed worthy (or that I can slag off in ‘amusing’ ways). A full check-list of titles and TC ratings is at the end.
Ambassador Magma (Episodes 1 to…far too many) – The best way to sum up is to say this isn’t anime, it’s a cartoon. It looks very little different from the usual Saturday morning crap: the dubbing is reminiscent of “He-Man” or “Thundercats” and everything is sanitised for our protection – even an impaled dog generates no blood. You might as well watch a Disney series.
Based on a manga by the first recognised anime king, Osama Tezuka, I can only assume his story got lost en route; there isn’t much visible here. Alien invasion, blah, Earth’s salvation, blah, only hope, blah, girl. Even giant robot freaks will be disappointed, as you only get about two minutes of the promised mecha per episode; thank heavens for small mercies. While a chance of reaching the tolerable is provided by occasional nice paranoias – the alien invasion is being covered up – it’s mostly unendurable, though after lots of Guinness, the heroine looks like Phoebe Cates. Mind you, drink enough and any girl looks like Phoebe Cates. Readers are advised to hold on for ‘Giant Robo’ if they want this sort of thing done well. Note the sleeve of tape one uses a picture that isn’t from ‘Magma’ at all, but ‘The Wind of Amnesia’. Tut, tut! E
Battle Angel Alita – Probably the best anime of ’93, and the magic is still there: spectacularly imaginative setting, driven heroine, and intense drama. In the future, the elite inhabit a city in the sky, while the masses scrabble for survival on the discarded scraps below. Police are replaced by bounty hunters; one such is Alita, a cyborg with no memory of the past. Effectively a clean slate, she has to learn everything anew, from her own name to the nature of love. ‘Alita’ is class, with the best animation you’ll see outside a full-blown movie. It doesn’t pull punches, but certainly has more to it than splatter, with the second part especially relying more on storyline and characters. Having seen one favourite, “Project A-ko”, sacrificed on the altar of lip-synch, I was worried this wouldn’t survive. But it’s fine; while synch is near-perfect, characters fit the voices well, though Alita herself is a tad whiny, with hints of political correctness which I’m sure weren’t there originally. This is the opinion of a serious pedant – as dubbed anime goes, they don’t come much better than this. A-
Black Magic M-66 – Miniaturisation is a speciality in Japan, i.e. the Walkman, and this OAV neatly compresses James Cameron’s career into 45 mins. A) killer robot, programmed to seek and destroy it’s target. B) heroine, bravely fighting the monster while protecting a young girl. And C) finale atop a skyscraper, complete with VTOL craft – especially remarkable as this was made in ‘85, slightly before ‘True Lies’. All that’s missing are some flying piranhas. Available in dubbed and subbed versions (guess which to buy?), this is still inventive and original, adding several nice touches to a common anime topic, industro-military tech gone wonky (c.f. ‘Akira’, ‘Bubblegum Crisis’, ‘Grey’). Energetic, intelligent and cool, it’s sharp as you’d expect from the creator of ‘Dominion’. I think we can confidently expect Cameron’s next movie to include a pair of Puma twins… B+
The Cyberpunk Collection – This title links three disparate series, AD Police, Genocyber and Cyber City Oedo 808, but with 30+ anime to review, I’m not complaining! What they have in common are futuristic dystopian settings, with power in the hands of corporations, and individuals ground underfoot. The execution, however, varies widely. Genocyber is a total mess, with too much crammed into one episode. By the end, you feel like a Viet Cong soldier who has just experienced what “back to the Stone Age” means. Extending this military metaphor, Cyber City is a blunt instrument. While it has some good ideas, it’s hard to pay attention when the dialogue has more cursing than a Tarantino script, without the wit. By far the best of the three is AD Police: a blow-dart at a mere 30 minutes per part, it hits the mark with precision. Next time I want to watch “Blade Runner”, but haven’t time, this will do admirably: rogue androids, sex, and plenty of dark ‘n’ moody lighting.
Galactic Pirates – Lots of great ideas here. Unfortunately, none involve a coherent storyline; the overall impression is “45 minute trailer for cool movie”. The chief reason for this is the central character, an unconventional galactic cop called Apollo, with a taste for junk food, the ability to control minds, a 30,000 rpm mouth and an irresistible attraction to trouble. Oh, and he’s a cat (voiced by someone who clearly watched too much ‘Red Dwarf’). All of which gets slammed into your face early on. While reeling from the overload, I vaguely caught other plot elements zooming past at high percentages of c. Pirates using a device for recording & projecting memories and experiences to take over the universe? Apollo getting fired as bait for the pirates? Sofas sprouting out of the ground? Any of these may or may not be significant. Certainly, it’s non-stop action – “something” happens about every fifteen seconds – but you may well need to lie down in a dark room afterwards. A bit too hyper for it’s own good. C-
Genesis Survivor Gaiarth 1 – Almost as incomprehensible as “Galactic Pirates”, but here, it’s too little information rather than too much. Feels like you’re dumped in the middle of a series, with hero Itai coming out of the wilderness after his “father” war-droid is killed by enemy forces – the war finished a century ago, but the machinery keeps fighting. However, the reasons behind the war are never explained, nor the resolution, nor the current state of play. Itai arrives at a city and teams up with a bounty hunter, but little else is clear, apart from the ending, when he repulses a threat to the city. I also found the animation style flat, and the music sounded worryingly like Yes. The lesson to learn is that while imagination is the key to good anime (and there is plenty of it on view here), it isn’t enough, when setting and storyline are over-thin. D
Gunbuster – Dubbed anime sometimes has unexpected advantages. In the first subbed tape to get a wide release since ‘Akira’, much obvious care went into animating…well, put it like this, the effect is slightly spoiled as the subtitles have a nasty tendency to be about chest-height. Baby nutrition will not be a problem in the future, if you get my drift. Bounce, jiggle, bounce. Noriko, daughter of a star-ship captain who died in the line of duty, wants to follow her dad’s footsteps and defend Earth from alien invasion. To this end, she joins the Space Academy and struggles against petty jealousies, a bra shortage and the problems of getting a giant robot to do press-ups, plus the machinations of the instructor (a survivor from her father’s ship) who wants her to operate Earth’s secret weapon. Phew; I spotted a kitchen sink nestling in the corner, too.
You can tell from this and the attention to mammorial detail that it’s not too po-faced. At least, I don’t think so, but I can never take giant robots seriously anyway. Give the creators the benefit, and call Gunbuster a lovely genre spoof, pumping melodrama up to hideous levels, accompanied by stirring music, with no plot cliché or animation device unused. Some of the humour is more subtle, indeed obscure: a character called Smith Toren is amusing only if you know translator/author Toren Smith, who actually does the character’s voice. This is the crux. Casual viewers may miss the irony, as few true examples of the ‘Gundam’ genre have appeared here. To a novice, while nicely animated, it might seem overblown and wet, just as ‘Rabid Grannies’ is crap horror unless you realise it parodies crap horror. Therefore, for the full effect, watch ‘Dangaioh’ and see the sort of thing ‘Gunbuster’ rips the piss from mercilessly. B+
Guy – Similar to ‘Devilman’, not surprisingly, both are by Go Nagai, with bounty-hunter Guy meeting something nasty which lets him become a flesh-rending monster on cue – handwave, handwave – plus additional gratuitous sex (part one is conveniently set on a mixed race prison planet), an allegedly “adult” feel increased by lots of swearing in the dialogue. Ooh, naughty. The second half is notably better; it possesses a story to start with. Guy’s sidekick, Raina, enters a religious cult to locate a sacred statue, but finds she’s bitten off more than she can chew. [Another sympathetic view of the Church, hehe] Maybe it’s me; I found her more interesting than Guy, your usual macho bullshitter about as deep as a puddle. Overall, okay sex-gore-SF-soap, and possessing just enough beyond that, to keep awake those who prefer real girls. C
KO Century Beast Warriors – The unusual hook here is that we humans are the bad guys, looting an alien planet; the hero/ines are the natives, seeking a mysterious power to help defeat us, and who can become animals at (in)appropriate moments. My major complaint is a cloying taste of saccharine; the heroes are just too nice, a fault more often found with Disney than anime (see elsewhere) – with the worthy exception of native prince Badd Mint, who lunges at anything in a dress, even 6-year olds. Luckily, the villains are generally less flat, and it grew on me; given cute-furry-fantasy is a genre for which I’ve low tolerance, by the end, I almost got into it. It’s a parson’s egg of a dub: parts are good, but others stink to high heaven: if you want a Scottish accent, get a Scotsman to do it, or don’t bother. I also disliked the use of ‘real’ kids to play children; while perhaps more authentic, these simply didn’t cut the mustard. Children should be seen and not heard, maybe. I’d probably have liked it more subbed; a highlight of the film was the the opening song, bonus points for rhyming and scanning subtitles. Still, there’ve been far worse debuts, and it’s hard to envisage anything further from the Manga-stream. C-
Lupin III; The Fuma Conspiracy – As entertainment, this is perfect, an anime “Indiana Jones”, three separate groups (the good, the bad, and the ugly?) all chasing after a pot giving directions to a fabulous buried treasure. The bad news is, it’s a spin-off from a long-running TV series – imagine a Japanese person watching, say, a movie version of “Coronation Street” and you’ll get some idea of the problem. The characters and relationships are all taken as read; for example, it’s never explained that Inspector Zenigata is chasing the hero, Lupin because he is a master thief whom Zenigata has been hunting for years. However, allowing for this, it’s still a great piece of throughly enjoyable fun, with a great sense of invention, and prior knowledge is really not necessary. B+
Moldiver – This and ‘Tenchi Miyo’ mark the Big Boys arrival in the UK marketplace, Pioneer being major players in Japan. Consciously avoiding tits ‘n’ tentacles, they go for a comedy/ superhero series around a technology which makes the possessor invincible (as well as providing a natty line in superheroic fashion). Unfortunately, once the suit is established as utterly invulnerable, most of the point evaporates; you know the result of any battle. As with ‘The Guyver’ there’s only so much that can be done with this theme, and after four episodes, I felt distinctly ennui-ed. That is, however, three more than ‘The Guyver’ managed, and how can I truly dislike any anime with bad girls called Brooke, Nastassja and Jennifer? This sums up the show: all the frilly edges are there, but there’s nothing significant to hang it on. D
Ninja Scrolls – This bears certain resemblances to “Wicked City”, with a strong-yet-silent hero, aided by a woman who may not be on the same side but is anyway no fragile petal, and a sprightly old geezer manipulating everyone to his own advantage. It also believes in “plot advancement through gore”; when hero Jubei kills one of the members of a gang of dark ninjas after a gold shipment, you just know he’s going to have to kill the rest of the gang (the snake woman, shadow man, etc), in a variety of spectacular and imaginative battles with an enormous quantity of red stuff going everywhere. Still, I’m not complaining; switch brain off, detach critical faculties to prevent dubbing from grating, and wallow. B+
Rumic World – Maybe it’s a flashback due to bad Kinski in the 80’s but ‘Laughing Target’ reminds me of, er, “Cat People”. Both have mysterious, orphaned, virgin girls who transform into something life-threatening, endangering themselves and those they love. Ok, there are differences – no thigh-length waders here – but the sex/horror mix is familiar. While cramming a lot in, to the extent that it sometimes seems to be a series of set pieces, ‘Target’ remains near-traditional fare, favouring atmosphere over in-yer-face gore (making it closer to Lewton than Schrader). My only disappointment was that the “lurking secrets” in the heroine’s background weren’t quite lurky enough. When I finally saw them, my reaction was “Is that it?”! B+
Stuck behind the worst video sleeve ever (the picture, left, captures the technicolour awfulness!), ‘Maris the Wondergirl’ is a hyper-strong interstellar policewoman, perpetually broke through paying for damage she and her family cause. Fortune beckons when she’s assigned to the kidnap of a millionaire’s son, but things are not as they seem. Sadly, nor are they as funny. The weakest Rumic World tale, while still strong on animation, it possesses no real punch, almost as if Takahashi used her best humour in Urusei Yatsura. The funniest joke – a Jackie Chan style sequence of out-takes behind the credits – is wrecked by squeezing them into a corner to make way for the English titles. C-
‘Mermaid’s Forest‘ is the gloomiest anime yet released – pain, mutilation and cannibalism, a bit unexpected from the author of ‘Ranma 1/2’. Intensely dark and moody, it’s based on a myth that eating mermaid flesh makes you immortal albeit, in FRP-speak, with a bastard of a saving throw. The villainess drank mermaid blood, getting eternal youth with a side effect: a perpetual need for body parts from (presumably) unwilling donors. While some atmosphere is lost from the subtitled version, enough remains to make this pointedly nasty and tastefully tasteless. B-
Tenchi Muyo 1-6 – For some reason, I took an instant dislike to the first episode finding it cliched, limited and pedestrian. Not bad going for a show that revolves around a demonic extra-terrestrial babe capable of totalling property on a whim, unwittingly freed by a teenage boy. Screwing that scenario up takes a serious lack of talent. Normally, that’d be it, in the dumper. However, there were two episodes on the tape, so what the hell? And curiously, I found myself thawing out…
Don’t really know why. The cast expands beyond two, with the arrival of other ET’s intent on finding the babe for various reasons, allowing greater flexibility than ‘Boy gets chased by demon’. And there’s certainly much more imagination on view, such as a cute, carrot-eating, baby rabbit/cat/spaceship [sic]. In any case, by episode four, I was charmed and heartily looking forward to the conclusion, which managed to warp most of the usual “final battle” cliches. Full of nice touches and, unlike ‘Moldiver’, unpredictability seems to be it’s aim. B-
Tokyo Babylon – In the month between the two parts, I somehow forgot absolutely everything about episode one. Even more scary, reading the sleeve didn’t help. However, on rewatching it, this was because the blurb lied. Phone sex? Gang rape? You’ve got to wonder what the Advertising Standards Authority would say about such misrepresentation. After the re-view, I realised why the first part had been so eminently forgettable: hero Subaru is a medium who looks and sounds like Michael Jackson (sensitive = wimpy, it seems), accompanied by an annoying comic relief sister. I guess “medium” here = “neither rare nor well-done”.
Luckily, part two is decent enough to beg a pardon, with interesting psychic Mirei, who can see the past history of objects. She’s called in by the police to help catch a serial killer stalking the city subway. Coming on like a telepathic version of ‘Halloween’, it’s nicely handled, right up to the conclusion which blows it by seeming to semaphore part 3 (though as yet there is no sign of it appearing!), which destroyed the nicely self-contained quality. Animation is excellent in both, but you’re better off not bothering with part one at all; you won’t be missing out on anything significant. D- and B
The Wind of Amnesia – Nice idea. Mankind’s memory is wiped by a mysterious wind that leaves almost all civilization in ruins, and humanity teetering on the brink of Neanderthalism. Hero Wataru still retains some knowledge and drives across America seeking a solution, accompanied by a mysterious girl who can communicate with the savages. Poor execution. Every plot twist is semaphored a long time in advance; it’s stultifyingly moral (I hate being preached at and this is so soppy I felt like spin-drying my VCR afterward); and the hero is utterly flat, when he finds out the cause of civilization’s decay, his non-reaction is awesome. The writing is also slipshod: one caption tells us it’s the year 1999, but we later visit a city built “at the start of the 21st century”. We are deep in unsatisfying territory. E
Wings of Honneamise – Oh, wow. Put simply, one of the best animated films you will ever see; only Miyazaki (“Totoro” et al) has done better. Indeed, it’s a great film full stop, managing to be simultaneously entertaining and thought-provoking. The setting is an alternate world, where one country is on the verge of getting into space: the hero is training as the first astronaut and the film chronicles his hopes and fears as take-off nears and war approaches. Though nominally SF, the technology is irrelevant, what matters are the characters, and those here have more depth than many live-action films. The level of imagination is startling, with every facet of the world fully realised, and Oscar-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack is up to his usual standard. At two hours long, it may be a test of stamina, but I didn’t want it to end. Not Manga’s usual fare – Guyver groupies will hate it – so they deserve enormous praise for releasing such a piece of sheer class, and with an almost un-noticeable dub. Excellent. A
The Trash City Handy Anime Chart
|Wings of Honneamise||Manga||A|
|Battle Angel Alita||Manga||A-|
|Black Magic M-66||Kiseki||A-|
|Lupin III: Fuma Conspiracy||Western Connection||B+|
|Cat Girl Nuku-Nuku||Crusader (RIP)||C+|
|Devil Hunter Yohko||Western Connection||C+|
|Samurai Gold||Western Connection||C|
|KO Century Beast Warriors||Anime UK||C-|
|Galactic Pirates||Western Connection||C-|
|Return of the Overfiend||Kiseki||D+|
|Genesis Survivor Gaiarth||Anime Projects||D|
|Cyber City Oedo||Manga||D|
|Kama Sutra||Western Connection||D|
|Wind of Amnesia||Manga||E|