I’m not sure what I’d choose as my favorite anime series. There’s a lot of competition. Yet I never sway when picking my favorite terrible anime series: Angel Cop. Released from 1989 to 1994, it’s three hours of profane, mean-spirited hyperviolence, and it perfectly embodies a time when Japan’s direct-to-video anime market surged with sex and violence like a collective id unchained.
There’s more to Angel Cop, though! In contrast to the typical banal, gore-laden anime OVA, Angel Cop strings along a halfway passable tale of anti-terrorist operatives gone bad. The near future sees Japan wracked by economic slumps and the attacks of no-good commie terrorists known as the Red May. The government forms a squad of Special Security agents licensed and in fact encouraged to kill, with the ruthless Angel and her slightly more humane partner Raiden exemplifying their shoot-first ideals. Before long, they’re at war with not only the terrorists but also a trio of psychic assassins and their own government. It’s all kept afloat with competent action from director Ichiro Itano, a briskly paced script initially by Sho “Noboru” Aikawa, and the occasional burst of nice animation by veterans like Yasuomi Umetsu, Keiji Goto, and Keiichi Sato.
This makes it all the more hilarious that Angel Cop rapidly devolves into a barrage of profanity and slaughter. The show relishes its gory excess even in the title screen, seemingly painted with a machine gun that shoots blood. The English version is a Manga UK swearing contest in which “Fuck you, baby!” and “All right, buttfuck, that’s enough speech-making for now!” are among the more conventional lines. Enjoy this compilation if you haven’t already.
And then Angel Cop gets awful in a way mainstream entertainment wouldn’t dare approach.
I haven’t been to the Toy Fair in a long, long time, but I always like looking at the new trinkets it brings. After all, a good chunk of the toy market targets adults collecting new versions of their beloved childhood possessions. I usually abstain from actual purchases, but there’s no harm in looking at things you want and then coming up with excuses not to buy them. I do it all the time.
NECA’S ALIEN VS. PREDATOR
NECA makes dozens of toys based on Aliens, Predators, and the cinematic unions thereof, but these are different. They’re based on Capcom’s Alien vs. Predator game, a semi-obscure 1994 arcade brawler never ported to any home console. As the wrestling fans say, I marked out and marked out hard for these.
NECA announced Alien vs. Predator arcade toys last year, but they stuck to the actual Aliens and Predators, including the playable Hunter and Warrior predators, the Smurf-colored Mad Predator boss, and the vexing Razor Claws. The new addition is a two-pack of the game’s human heroes: cyborged-out Dutch Schaefer from the first Predator movie and technically original Capcom heroine Linn Kurosawa. Fifteen years ago, a Linn Kurosawa toy would’ve topped any far-fetched wish list I made.
But what’s the big deal with Capcom’s Alien vs. Predator? For my money, it’s one of the best brawlers around. It has that gorgeous spritework you’ll see in all Capcom arcade games of the 1990s, and the designers really make the most of the license: the environments are wonderfully grimy and bleak, the new xenomorph variants fit perfectly into the mix, and even the standard Aliens slink along the ground and creep out of the shadows with wonderful Gigerian flair.
Alien vs. Predator also dodges that common flaw of belt-scrolling beat-‘em-ups: repetition. Each character has a wealth of attacks, and the throngs of Aliens show careful variety. And just when you might get sick of fighting the creatures, the game pulls out that familiar Alien plot twist of the military exploiting the xenomorphs, leading you to fight off brigades of corrupt soldiers and their power-loaders. And then the Aliens come back for the finale.
For that last dose of mystique, Alien vs. Predator never appeared on any home systems. A 32X port and a Saturn version were rumored and canceled, leaving Capcom’s brilliant creation to arcades and emulation. Linn Kurosawa has recurring cameos in some later games, appearing in backgrounds in Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Street Fighter III while inspiring the lookalike Simone in Cannon Spike. For a brief time, she was my favorite video game character ever, and I’d hear no talk about how she was just a Capcom clone of recurring Alien vs. Predator comic heroine Machiko Noguchi.
Why I Probably Won’t Buy Them:
Neca figures tend to be expensive. Going by the pricing on similar two-packs, Major Schaefer and Lieutenant Kurosawa will run about forty bucks. That, and Linn’s waist is too high and her crotch is too big. Perhaps I shouldn’t be picky about a toy I’ve wanted for twenty years, but there’s money at stake.
I buy just one or two Transformers a year. It isn’t easy. Hasbro’s modern toys are little plastic torpedoes locked on to the nostalgia nodes of every kid who dug Transformers in the 1980s or 1990s. Countless new Autobots and Decepticons are modern takes on older characters, delivering the poseable, cartoon-accurate action figures we always wanted. That’s a tough poison to resist.
I try to abstain, but a few toys make it past my defenses. The most recent one is Seaspray, a Transformers: Titan Returns incarnation of the hovercraft-bot best known for talking like he was permanently underwater. Or drunk. Or both.
The updated Seaspray follows a design similar to his 1985 version, changing from a slightly tubby robot to a compact hovercraft. The current version has much more articulation, of course, and I like how his enormous feet could suit a clown, a water skiier, or a drowned mobster. I could see his many moving parts getting weak after a few dozen transformations, but then I’m no longer a ten-year-old kid who treats every toy like a stage from Wrecking Crew.
Seaspray also looks fine as a hovership, though I note one little shortcoming: his old ‘80s version had wheels on the bottom, and this new one does not. I know that most hovercraft don’t have wheels, but nor do most hovercraft turn into alien robots.
All things considered, it’s a good little toy. Yet there’s another reason I bought it, and it’s the same reason that Seaspray is one of my favorite Transformers.
Last month brought the first trailer for Spielberg’s Ready Player One movie, based on Ernest Cline’s book about a virtual-reality treasure hunt in a dystopian future. This prompted me to finally read Ready Player One, and it convinced me that the future of profitable literature is all about nostalgia: pure, vacuous, unreflective nostalgia that namechecks as many childhood fascinations as print allows.
Well, I want a piece of that. I’m now at work on a science fiction novel called Mission One Start, and I know it’s bound for the best-seller lists. Here’s a sample.
I always liked Critical Mass Eisley. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of clubs across the OMNIWAY based on the Cantina from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, but this one went beyond rote imitation. The layout echoed an alien version of the classic sitcom Cheers, and tonight a Skeksis from Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal tended bar, wearing mirrored cyberpunk shades while mixing a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Here they knew the difference between a Trandoshan and a Gorn.
Even the patrons were a more eclectic mix. As I grabbed a Romulan Ale, I ducked around a winter-camo Robocop, a gaggle of teenage girls dressed as the Bangles in Voltron pilot outfits, and an impressively well-rendered Destro from G.I. Joe wearing Ghostbuster gear. It was great.
I slipped behind a table styled like the monster checkerboard from the Millennium Falcon and tapped my line open.
“You sure she’ll be here?” I asked.
“Totally,” Rhodel said in my ear. “The Minicons may be weird, but they always follow through. Besides, they need our passcodes, and we need their access.”
“I think I see her.”
She wove through the crowd like a ninja about to kidnap the president. Her avatar was a slim, sharp-featured woman with long red hair and just an adorable hint of anime around the eyes. She wore a Dune stillsuit that glowed with subtle crimson highlights, topped off with a visor and yellow trenchcoat right off Jubilee from the X-Men.
“Quit gawking and talk to her, man!” Rhodel piped up through my ear. I’d forgotten that he had a link to my visuals. “And don’t get caught up talking about that awful Dune movie.” Read more »
I was prepared. The live-action Ghost in the Shell movie had middling reviews, irksome casting, and many other signs of mediocrity. I went to see it anyway.
Why? I’m highly susceptible to Ghost in the Shells. Mamoru Oshii’s movies and Masamune Shirow’s manga loomed large over my time as a teenage anime nerd, and only a small speck of my fondness for them stems from nostalgia. That speck would be the afternoon back in 1996 when I checked all over town for the original Ghost in the Shell film and eventually found a shelf full of it at Media Play, which had apparently looted every other video store. I miss Media Play.
On its own merits, the original Ghost in the Shell became a film I return to over and over like a kid rewatching Disney movies. It’s on my list of old reliables, right there with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Watership Down, Mad Max: Fury Road, Dune, and, uh, Jason X. I’ll explain that last one someday.
So I was unafraid of wasting money and two hours on a potentially bad movie. It wouldn’t change the Ghost in the Shells that I liked, and it probably wouldn’t be the nadir of the whole series.
And I can say this much: the 2017 live-action film isn’t the most aggressively bad part of Ghost in the Shell history. Yet it could be the blandest. That might be worse.
Gravity Rush 2 is little under a month away, and I prefer to pretend it’s already here. I’m running a Gravity Rush contest for a few more days, and I’m busy playing the demo that went up on the PlayStation Network last week. And just today, Sony released the two-part Gravity Rush: The Animation – Overture. Sure, you can watch it for free on Sony’s YouTube Channel, but why do that when instead you can read my opinion of it?
Or maybe I’ll just use a picture.
A bridge between the first game and the sequel, Overture answers at least one important question about Gravity Rush: what do the characters like to eat?
Yes, it goes all of two minutes before trotting out a harmless but tiresome cliché: the heroine flying into a violent fury when a precious, newly acquired snack is destroyed. Floating around a market, Kat buys a kabob, loses it, and trashes bug-eyed Nevi shadow creatures, whereupon Raven, her less cheerful rival, shows up and lends a hand. This occupies half of Overture’s running time.
The second half jumps back a short while and finds Kat and Raven eating snacks (of course) and discussing a recent spate of disappearances in their home city of Hekseville. They’re suddenly sent to a mysterious floating island where a HAL-like computer holds children hostage in little power cels. Two half-masked, mummy-like antagonists appear, and then everyone ends up warped to the strange new city we’ll see in Gravity Rush 2.
Overture is an enjoyable gap-filler, all things considered. I can’t imagine it swaying those with no interest whatsoever in Gravity Rush, but it brings up the game’s best points. The animation is vibrant and mostly fluid, capturing the details of the floating city and Kat’s bubbly personality—which fortunately develops beyond “I like to eat” in the second half. It also keeps the fictional language from the games, as the characters all use the same melodious semi-French, semi-Japanese tone (in which Kat and Raven’s names sound the same as they do in English). I’m a sucker for made-up languages. I’d watch Barb Wire if everyone talked like they were speaking Italian and Swahili backwards.
Short as it is, Overture stokes my Gravity Rush 2 interest, which was, of course, crazily high already. I’m gonna go play the demo another dozen times.
We American anime fans were busy in the late 1990s. We weren’t satisfied just watching Robotech reruns on Toonami; we fervently devoured favorite series, wrote letters to keep Sailor Moon on the air, and went to conventions in numbers previously unseen. We also spent lots of money on anime and its ancillary merchandise. So great was our hunger that some of us thought it a momentous privilege to pay thirty bucks for the imported soundtrack to a movie or series we enjoyed.
In that light, The Best of Anime seemed like a great deal. Rhino Records released it in 1998 at the same price as a new album from Weezer or Neutral Milk Hotel, and it settled the question of anime’s finest music for all time.
The Best of Anime aimed itself as much at new fans as it did at old-timers, and it shows in the cover choices. The CD comes with an illustration of either Cutey Honey or Speed Racer, and the art itself is a thin cel-like sheet posed before the booklet’s cover image of a Silent Mobius cityscape. I was a teenage boy at the time, and despite Speed Racer’s ironic cred, I went with the Cutey Honey cover. And then I tucked the cel inside the booklet before anyone could see it on my shelf.
Despite the title, this isn’t an authoritative collection of the finest music spawned in Japan’s animation waters. If it were, it’d have the Orguss 02 opening.
No, this is less a Top-40 countdown and more an educational sampling from three decades of popular anime series, and it might be more accurate to call it The Best of Anime That We Could Afford to License. It’s helped by some nice liner notes from Fred Patten, who introduces each series and explains just how it fits into the broader vein of anime. He also provides a brief rundown of just how certain shows and the attendant fandom took off in America—starting with an anecdote about the heroine of Brave Raideen kicking an enemy soldier in the crotch.
And the songs themselves? The Best of Anime is a hodgepodge of corny opening tunes and disposable puffery surrounding a few genuinely good numbers. In other words, it’s a perfect encapsulation of anime music.
We’ll remember the 1980s as a time of fanciful excess in North America and Japan, no matter how meretricious that may be. Never mind the Cold War or the AIDS crisis or the rampant sleaziness peddled as noble success. Textbooks will document an era of Thompson Twins singles, Schwarzenegger films, feathered hair, mecha anime, suspiciously avuncular presidents, and video games where you had to rescue suspiciously avuncular presidents from ninjas. Not ninja. Ninjas. It was the 1980s, and we didn’t care about faithfully pluralizing loanwords.
The indulgences of the 1980s fed Japan’s direct-to-video anime market in the decade’s latter half, ensuring that the acronym OVA would remain part of the nerd lexicon. Companies turned just about any idea into at least 45 minutes of animation, even if that idea consisted of nothing more than a giant mecha, a big-eyed heroine, or some combination of the two. Ideally, the OVA boom would’ve spurred a wealth of creative animation from rising talents, but instead it brought a deluge of vapid waste with occasionally nice animation and all the enduring quality of a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie. The typical 1980s OVA is not Angel’s Egg. It is Ladius, Good Morning Althea, Roots Search, Explorer Woman Ray, Relic Armor Legaciam, or anything else so generic that it’s hard to remember the title. I think one of them was called Steel Guarder Lyzerial.
California Crisis: Gun Salvo, a 1986 radar blip from Studio Unicorn, is smack-dab in the middle of this nonsense. It lasts under an hour, and its story pitch could be summed up in restroom graffiti. It’s a ridiculous joyride that imitates the shallowest parts of shallow action films.
Yet California Crisis stands a little above the dross.
For one thing, it looks different. It’s animated with linework and shadows much heavier than the typical ‘80s cartoon from Japan or anywhere else. And instead of servicing a story about toy-ready mecha, Tokyo teenagers, or robot-demon warfare in the dead of space, California Crisis is all about the glorious sun-baked façade of America.
Animation mistakes are inevitable. They’re also amusing. Some fans laughed over a braid whiffing through Elsa’s arm during that big musical number in Disney’s Frozen. Others got angry about it, and that was doubly hilarious. After all, such mistakes are everywhere, from gleaming cinematic treasures to those dollar-bin knockoff cartoons seemingly composted of nothing but animation mistakes. Mike Toole put up a column and a Tumblr dedicated to anime gaffes, and this feed shows us that you’ll find goofs in just about every big-budget animated film.
But hey, those little slip-ups seldom harm the story. A security guard’s misshapen arm or a magical schoolgirl’s chameleon eyes won’t confuse the audience that much. At most, a few kids might wonder why Brawn and Windcharger show up in the background of third-season Transformers episodes even though they died horrifically in the movie. Then their parents can explain that cartoons are not always perfect and shatter one key childhood illusion.
My favorite animation error comes in Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Time of Eve, and it may be the only time that such a mistake altered the entire context of a scene.
Time of Eve, or Eve no Jikan, is a six-part series set in a future where androids can pretty much look human—so much so that they wear legally mandated hologram halos. The TV even runs commercials admonishing citizens not to fall in love with machines. Average teenager Rikuo notices some odd datestamps surrounding his family’s house-bot, Sammy, and he and his friend Misaki track the mystery to a café called Time of Eve. Inside, androids discard their halos and act like regular humans, leaving newcomers like Rikuo and Masaki unable to tell just who’s a robot and who’s a meatform.
The series twists through the guessing game with a gentle humor, wrapping character vignettes in awkward moments and upbeat music. It’s mostly a goof on the Asimovian ideals of robot behavior and society’s desperate attempts to keep its creations from being too much like the hu-man, and I almost wonder if there’s a point about women’s rights circling further down. Either way, it’s a great little series.
Time of Eve is also an Original Net Animation, a neologism for those anime productions that premiere online. Its look is clean and competent, but it clearly wasn’t given a movie’s budget. So some animation gaffes happen.
We have an absurd amount of anime at our disposal online. Even beyond the numerous shows that companies stream for free, there are those devoted nerds who track down obscure releases and offer them for mockery and edification. You can see many of these relics on YouTube or at the anime convention panels that specialize in such things. Heck, we can even download an amazing Prince of Tennis fandub once suspected lost to the ages. That’s historical preservation for you.
However, there’s one especially mysterious release that, to my knowledge, never found its way online: Star Quest. Its story begins with Gainax’s uncompromisingly ambitious Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, which was a really big deal back in 1987. My opinion of the film is not entirely praise, but there’s no denying the imaginative vision that Gainax brought to the movie. It’s the tale of another world’s first manned spaceflight, and just about every scene gives off the fascinating air of a reality that’s not quite ours but every bit as flawed. Honneamise caught the attention of many fans when it debuted in 1987, and a North American outfit called Go East Productions snapped it up and renamed it Star Quest.
Star Quest involved more than a new title, of course. Go East dubbed the film with a noticeably different script, changing a good deal of the dialogue and most of the names into a strange mix of Westernized titles and fantasy neologisms. Honneamise avoids any obvious Japanese or American names, cheating only by when its protagonist Shirotsugh Lhadatt gets the nickname “Shiro.” The Star Quest dub dispenses with this. Shirotsugh becomes Randy Wilson, pious street preacher Riquinni becomes Diane, and General Khaidenn becomes General Dixon. Oddly, the planet itself gets a name in this new dub: Eeya. Eeya indeed.
According to esteemed anime historian Carl Horn, Star Quest premiered on February 19, 1987 at Mann’s Chinese Theatre (now known as TCL Chinese Theatre) and never again appeared in public. Longtime anime collectors reportedly have copies of the film, but no clips or other records are available online. Contemporary reviews of Star Quest are also hard to find, but there’s an interesting account in the second issue of Anime-Zine. An article by Toren Smith recounts the plot of Honneamise and spends two pages explaining some of the differences between the original script and Star Quest.
Smith’s examples reveal a considerably different tone to the movie. Star Quest breaks the film’s mood almost instantly, with the main character describing his planet of Eeya just before he gives his name as Randy Wilson. For a denizen of a planet with an unimpressive space program, he sure knows a lot about its astrogeographical location. Likewise, Randy’s orbital homily at the end of the film is a lot longer and preachier than Shiro’s speech in Honneamise.
Go East Productions is nearly as puzzling as Star Quest. Horn’s old Usenet post links the company to My Little Pony, but it’s hard to find any firm details about the group (which shares a name with several unrelated outfits). Both Horn and Smith credit the Star Quest script to Budd Donnelly, whose IMDB page credits him with ‘70s B-movies like Cinderella 2000 but not Star Quest. It’s a forgotten film, and by all available accounts it deserves that fate.
Yet Star Quest seems an interesting relic in the history of bastardized anime. It’s not just a meddlesome dub. It’s a full-scale rewrite of a film that, in its original version, tries to encompass the whole of human progress and civilization. How did Star Quest handle that? How did it approach the attempted rape that, in my opinion, wrecks the movie? How did it translate scenes of a rival nation’s leaders, who speak in a subtitled fictional language? It may be that we’re all better off not knowing, and of course that’s why we want to find out.