Thursday, November 25, 2010

In short: Cyber City Oedo 808 OVA 1-3 (1990)

Japan in a far, cyberpunk-y future as it could only have been imagined in the early 1990s. Three hardened cyber criminals - the badass, madly pompadour-ed and ponytailed Sengoku, the badass hacker and wearer of Geordie LaForge's old eye visor Gogol/Goggles, and the badass gender bending hair-metal-hair-favouring melee expert and Goth in spirit Benten - are roped into the service of the Cyber Police to hunt other cyber criminals. For every caught ex-colleague, they'll lose a few years of their original sentences of several hundred years in prison.

Which would be an okay deal, if our reluctant heroes wouldn't have to wear some of those darn explosive collars around their necks and wouldn't have to work under the secretive (possibly cyber and badass, too) Hasegawa. Hasegawa for his part seems to like nothing more than to set their collars on random countdowns during which they have to solve their cases.

In a bit of structural cleverness, each of the episodes concentrates on one of the three cyber policemen and relegates the other two to supporting roles.

In the first episode, Sengoku and his colleagues have to deal with a very peculiar hostage situation caused by a hacker (or is it a ghost?) in one of Oedo's space scrapers. Mild carnage, manly behaviour and angry ranting about morality ensues.

The second episode finds Gogol (who is not only a badass cyber whatever, but also a lover of Russian literature; probably "Dead Souls") the victim of a rather complicated (cyber?) conspiracy whose goal it is to use him as the final test object for a new-fangled military police cyborg (made out of mutilated dead bodies and metal) and to let the military replace the Cyber Police. Heavy carnage, manly behaviour and intense badassness ensues.

The third and - alas - final episode concerns Benten's investigation (he's the only one of the three who actually seems to investigate his cases) into what looks like vampire attacks on rogue bio scientists. A very mean old capitalist also makes an appearance. Heavy carnage, manly behaviour and melodramatic gothy vampire stuff ensues.

Although I think that the some of the "Cyber City Oedo 808 is the best cyberpunk anime ever!" talk on the 'net is a bit of an exaggeration (*cough* Mamoru Oshii *cough*), I can't say these three OVAs aren't very entertaining pieces of anime. That doesn't come as a surprise from films directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, and so on), a man who seems unable to make boring films, or dumb films that are dumber than strictly necessary.

If you're like me and have come to Kawajiri mostly through his more sleazy output, you'll be shocked to hear that Cyber City does not contain any nudity at all, and can in fact hardly even be called sleazy. The first episode also lacks some of the director's trademark visual grotesquerie (although the nature of the episode's antagonist will turn out to be quite grotesque). Fortunately, his trademark violence is still on board. The second and third episode do a visually much more interesting job at crossing cyberpunk with horror elements; the third even manages a visually impressive take on vampires.

While Kawajiri hits all the required beats of fight movies, he also manages to squeeze some interesting ideas and even a bit of characterization into the anime. The military cyborg and the vampire (and to a lesser degree even Sengoku's enemy) are cool things for the characters to fight, but are also used to reflect their inner lives. It's not really deep stuff, but makes the carnage more interesting because there seems to be something more at stake for the characters than just conquering bad guys.


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