Previously on OTAKU COMING HOME...
- How FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST Saved Anime (For Me) *** SAILOR MOON is for Boys (Too)!
- KINGDOM HEARTS Rescued an Anime Fan *** The Art of the Remake Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3
- The Do's & Dont's of Conventions *** For Under-Rated "Japanimation" *** Capcom Vs. Alex
If you’ve been keeping up with OTAKU COMING HOME for the last couple weeks, then it should be fairly obvious by now that I’m a fan of the old school “wild man” days of anime (A.K.A. the 80’s and 90’s OVA era). I thought this week I’d focus on something positive, for once, and shed some light on a few OVA's that many of you are likely to have missed.
While revisiting some of these old gems, I started to notice something that a lot of anime from this era have in common - - a very apparent influence from over the top 80's American action movies! To put it as simply as possible, there would be no BUBBLEGUM CRISIS without BLADE RUNNER.
What could be more appropriate on Election Day than to kick back after a long afternoon of casting ballots with some awesome Japanese cartoons that celebrate some of our country's finest culture? At their best, these OVA's are a pretty strange and interesting collision of cultural attitudes and tropes piled together into something unique and hard to categorize (but totally fun to watch!) So let's take a look at a few especially-noteworthy titles and creators of this particular brand of Anglo-infatuated-anime.
I’m hoping you’re all familiar with the work of Masamune Shiro, creator of GHOST IN THE SHELL, APPLESEED, and tons of other beautifully-drawn manga. However, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve never seen BLACK MAGIC M66, a 1987 OVA that Shirow actually co-directed (something he never attempted again!) with a cyberpunk/thriller/monster movie vibe that settles somewhere between TERMINATOR and GHOST IN THE SHELL.
The animation is a bit rough in places, but delivers when it counts, and the designs of all the machines and nutso sci-fi weapons are really cool. There are some great, tense, chase scenes and plenty of totally classic Shirow action sequences. This more than any other adaptation of his work truly looks and feels like Shirow.
The movement of the M66 kill-bots is the star of the show here, as far as the animation goes. During the initial showdown with the military they look like a combination of acrobats and insects, moving just strangely enough to not seem human. As the story progresses, the M66 starts moving a bit more like a robot-zombie-Frankenstein, which doesn’t make a ton of sense but is a lot of fun to watch.
In what is probably the best scene of the whole OVA, the young girl the M66 is trying to kill and a reporter caught up in the middle are stuck in an elevator with the killer machine. The only thing keeping the murder-bot from gutting them both is what amounts to a portable robot-repelling contraption and of course the batteries are low. It sounds a bit silly but the scene is actually quite effectively-claustrophobic and legitimately-tense. This scene alone is worth the price of admission.
Next up is PHANTOM QUEST CORPORATION, a fun little four-episode OVA with a good sense of humor and some really beautiful animation by Madhouse. The story is pretty much GHOSTBUSTERS from a Japanese angle, which also liberally (shamelessly) borrows from GHOST SWEEPER MIKAMI.
The animation and staging of the action sequences in this show are really something, with tons of movement and flourishes, as well as a lot of nice, hand-painted backgrounds. The culminating showdown, between the lip-stick-light-saber wielding heroine and a nefarious monk determined to steal her business, is brilliantly put together and a blast to watch.
PHANTOM QUEST has a darn likable cast and some appropriately spooky situations, but the real appeal is the look of the show. The color palette is nice and vibrant, the characters varied and well drawn with a cartoony edge that I really appreciate, and the movement is fluid and super energetic.
This is the work of one of the best animation studios at the time, clearly enjoying what they were doing.
You can point to plenty of examples of American influence in the work of prominent and respected creators of the time, but one man easily takes the cake in this category. Kenichi Sonoda, the king of 80’s character design, and creator of GUNSMITH CATS is bar none the biggest America-file of the group.
I’m assuming you guys have some exposure to GUNSMITH CATS (and if not I’d urge you to check it out, right now), but before Rally and May took to the mean streets of Chicago, RIDING BEAN was kicking ass and taking bullets to the dome.
Sonoda is a self-professed gun nut and an obvious car enthusiast. Honestly, that puts the man one apple pie away from being more of a red blooded American than I am. Without question, his love of weapons and muscle cars is apparent in his work. In fact, the animators very clearly spent the bulk of their time and budget on the cars and absurd chase scenes, and they look pretty spectacular.
Sadly, scenes with human characters do suffer a bit by comparison. This OVA celebrates the art of the American chase scene, even going so far as to steal one from THE BLUES BROTHERS for its climactic chase through the heart of town.
This guy’s got a really great eye for action, and his enthusiasm for the subject matter he works with is contagious. RIDING BEAN has a lot of really great vehicle animation (an all-but-dead art these days) and this really amazing romanticized American city aesthetic, with bright blue skies, brick buildings, and sun-bleached roads stretching as far as the eye can see.
The icing on the cake is the hilarious soundtrack by “David Garfield and Friends” which tries to cram every 80’s action movie sound track cliché into RIDING BEAN’s scant 46 minutes. The track “Road Buster” features vocals by Phil Perry, whose angel voice you may recognize from the GOOF TROOP theme song. No joke.
A western influence in anime isn’t all that hard to find once you start looking for it. For example, the “soba noodle western” attitude of TRIGUN or the “tofu noir” of BIG O and COWBOY BEBOP. Honestly, I think a wide range of influences tends to lead to good places, and these are no exception. I’m happy, and honestly a bit surprised, to realize that some of my favorite anime and manga artists owe a bit of credit to some of my favorite American movies.
And more power to them! Tezuka was influenced by Disney, after all - - and that seems to have worked out pretty well, didn't it?
Alex Eckman-Lawn is an illustrator and comic artists from Philadelphia. Check out his site - -alexeckmanlawn.com - - rumble with his Tumblr - - dudenukem.tumblr.com - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn