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America in Anime: Like an 80's Buddy Movie - - OTAKU COMING HOME

Alex points you towards a few gems from the wild days of the OVA, with an undeniable interest in all things American.

Previously on OTAKU COMING HOME...

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.

I love the way this show looks. It's all gritty cityscapes and robot suits and exploding helicopters.
I love the way this show looks. It's all gritty cityscapes and robot suits and exploding helicopters.

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.

M66 practices her best Terminator face while creeping through the sewer.
M66 practices her best Terminator face while creeping through the sewer.

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.

The tension in this scene all thanks to character animation - - the M66 struggling against the machine that repels it and the girl's body language. Really well-done stuff.
The tension in this scene all thanks to character animation - - the M66 struggling against the machine that repels it and the girl's body language. Really well-done stuff.

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.

The lighting in this is great. Dig that underlit Tokyo tower backdrop, as well.
The lighting in this is great. Dig that underlit Tokyo tower backdrop, as well.

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.

That giant, screaming, green fire-face gets me every time.
That giant, screaming, green fire-face gets me every time.

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.

Bean Bandit, still alive after being shot right in the face. This movie is streaming on HULU, right now.
Bean Bandit, still alive after being shot right in the face. This movie is streaming on HULU, right now.

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.

Bean in hi sideways-driving car (shown here murdering a man in cold blood by unexpectedly driving sideways).
Bean in hi sideways-driving car (shown here murdering a man in cold blood by unexpectedly driving sideways).

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.

Look at that lovingly-drawn GT500, and that 100% authentic "Coffee Chicago" sign in the background to gie it that American flavor.
Look at that lovingly-drawn GT500, and that 100% authentic "Coffee Chicago" sign in the background to gie it that American flavor.

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

No_name_here staff on Nov. 6, 2012 at 1:47 p.m.

True story - - Alex learned how to drive from watching RIDE BEAN.

AlexEL staff on Nov. 6, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.

@No_name_here: Riding Bean taught me how to LOVE, tom.

samweller999 staff on Nov. 6, 2012 at 5:41 p.m.

If you want that real S up in this you gotta check out Mad Bull 34 everybody. Man. That show was AWFUL. Which meant it was timeless.

NSFW below:

AlexEL staff on Nov. 6, 2012 at 9:59 p.m.

@samweller999: YES! this guy gets it! I actually seriously considered writing about Mad Bull 34, but i didn't think anime vice (or the world) was ready....

Marshal Victoryon Nov. 7, 2012 at 7:55 p.m.

@AlexELsaid:

@No_name_here: Riding Bean taught me how to LOVE, tom.

RIDING BEAN Good to great. An Yes if you can't learn to LOVE from watching it what good are ya to da human race.. or car chase even. GUNSMITH CATS ties into it to.Both are on my average or above list. Both feel Leathal-Die-Weapon-Hard-ish .Fun stuff.

Yeah the car chase/muscle car days are over.You might get a motorcyle chasing a train ever blue moon now in anime.Which is kinda dumb.. cause well theirs no money in car chase stuff.. cough http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_Five none at all cough cough.But make a cartoon about a hybrid that sorts out an cach fire if in a flood tho :/

Will have t check out BLACK MAGIC M66 big fan of GHOST IN THE SHELL, APPLESEED .

Oh just food for thought http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Magic_M66 has the manga at February 25, 1983 thats pre Terminator which was October 26, 1984...

AlexEL staff on Nov. 8, 2012 at 4:07 p.m.

@Marshal Victory: hey, right you are about the manga coming out before terminator! However, the OVA was made in '87 and from what i understand it's only loosely based on the manga. Regardless of which came first, its not like either one of them invented the killer robot on a rampage, right?

glad you're into gunsmith cats though! those OVAs are so good lookin.

Marshal Victoryon Nov. 8, 2012 at 4:46 p.m.

@AlexEL: I like the universe he set up with both RIDING BEAN an GUNSMITH CATS.Bean refers to the main character in GUNSMITH CATS in RIDING BEAN.It could be light hearted or serious.

Hmm cant speek to ova being more or less based on manga . We do know Harlan Ellisondid end up with a pay day an credit later on tho on TERMINATOR .Becuase it could well have been based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soldier_(The_Outer_Limits) which came out September 19, 1964 .

Did find BLACK MAGIC M66 on dvd tho but not for cheep.Worth owning ?More so than say GHOST IN THE SHELL ?This is good list of anime most i have seen an loved .Real curious on BLACK MAGIC M66 tho.Not seen it but now really want to. 40 bucks for a used copy tho sheesh.

AlexEL staff on Nov. 9, 2012 at 7:56 a.m.

@Marshal Victory: yikes, 40 is a little steep... I can't pretend that Black Magic is better than Ghost in the Shell, but it's definitely worth seeing. If you're just curious, i'm pretty sure you can watch the whole thing on youtube.

either that or buy it on VHS. you could probably buy a vcr and the tape for less than 40 bucks...

Marshal Victoryon Nov. 9, 2012 at 7:08 p.m.

@AlexEL: Thanks for reply . will look around for it later on.Maybe will luck out find it cheeper.Money gona get so tight soon So kinda need be bit careful with entertainmnet dollar.Have Black Lagoon on back order now an they saying december now an new it is cheeper than BLACK MAGIC M66 used atm.Tho i have found Ghost in shell rather cheep.Under 10 bucks seems a steal!

Even found RIDING BEAN for under 10.But Gunsmith Cats is freaking high even used 30ish if your lucky.

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