Friday, December 21, 2012

The Cyberpunk Week, Day 5: Cyber City Oedo 808 [1990-1991] (anime, action, thriller, obviously cyberpunk)

Studio: Madhouse,
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri,
Screenplay: Akinori Endo, Jyuzo Mutsuki (story),
Genre: Anime, Action, Thriller, Obviously Cyberpunk,
Starring: Hiroya Ishimaru, Tesshō Genda, Kaneto Shiozawa, Norio Wakamoto, Kyousei Tukui

When it comes to anime, I usually prefer the classic period of late 80-s until the beginning of 2000-s. There were so many awesome movies and TV shows to even count, and naturally, my most favorite anime of all time was also released during that timespan. You might think that I'm talking about GiTS, judging from that big epic post I've rolled out on Day 3. But nope, as much as I adore GiTS, Akira, Jin Roh - you know, the dark, mature stuff - there's one little OVA that has a very special place in my heart. Behold:

I'm pretty sure you've never heard of it before, but I swear it's one of the best animated sci-fi films out there. Well, it may lack the technical sophistication of GiTS, darkness of Akira or social commentary of Serial Experiments Lain (by the way, I'm not a fan of the latter), but as a work of visual media, it delivers one hell of a pleasure. I first saw it late at night on our local television, while I was eight-something years old. Never before and after was I so speechless about any movie - after all, before that I've been raised on Disney, and now, all of a sudden there comes this violent, badass Japanese cartoon, darker than anything I could even imagine at the time. After that night I was never the same again, getting hooked up on anime for life. So one thing can be said for sure - unlike Blade Runner and GiTS, Cyber City Oedo has a serious nostalgic quality to me.

But let's put nostalgia aside for a bit and talk about the movie. It's the year 2808, the city of Oedo - basically, rebranded Tokyo with the Homen feudal system in effect. The police force is now hiring its top operatives from among the dangerous convicts, the ones who were supposed to be crushed by the system, and instead got employed by it. Their payment is measured in reduction of their suspension periods. And of couse, this is where our main characters show up:

Sengoku (center), a near-psychotic fellow sworn to kill enough criminals to get finally released. During his off-duty time, he pursues a relationship with one of the Police's secretaries (which appears to be mutual, weird as it is) and drinks his ass off. However, there's an annoying robot named Varsus that is responsible for storing Sengoku's weapons and preventing his partner from getting too wasted. At first, the latter may seem a dumb and obnoxious unsophisticated nature, but by the end of the first episode you can see that Sengoku does have a code of honor... of sorts.

Gogul (left), a classic 90-s hacker with mohawk and stuff, who's also skilled with firearms. No defense mechanism can stand against him, and at one point of backstory, he was even able to hold hostage the government's satellite codes - now that's some balls. He also likes reading Dostoyevskiy, as he can be seen with 'Crime and Punishment' (well, more accurately, "НАКЗАНИЕ ДОСТЕВСБАГО") at the beginning of the first episode.

And finally, Benten (right), a bishounen who relies mostly on Ninjitsu and acrobatics. Despite having the most tender side of all the trio, contrary to the likes of Tuxedo Mask or say, the cast of Weiss Kreuz, he's still as much badass as his teammates. Also, according to the third episode, Benten is no stranger to Oedo's hookers, which clearly identifies him as a guy fore some doubting viewers. Finally, he has one of the coolest weapons ever invented - a molecule-thin thread that can cut through pretty much anything. His hobby is astrology, and that's where his 'The stars are not aligned tonight. That's a bad omen' catchphrase comes from.

Each of them has an imprisonment term occupying 300-something years, so when the police chief Hashegawa offers our heroes a chance to redeem their past shenanigans, all three eagerly accept. The twist in this case is their explosive collars that can be triggered anytime by the superior, forcing our heroes to be good boys all the way.

Despite some occurrences of crossover, each episode of the OVA is dedicated exclusively to one of the main characters. In Sengoku's segment, an unknown hacker captures and holds hostage 50,000 civilians in Oedo's tallest building. The police suspects that it's somehow connectted to death of the skyscraper's original architect, so our heroes are sent to investigate.

Gogul's deal is a distress call from his ex-lover, who asks him for help, only for a horrifying military project to be uncovered. The hacker has to stand against a cybermechanical abomination named Molcos and bring it down for good.

As for Benten, he gets assigned to a series of strange murders caused by a creature that can be best described as... vampire. All the victims were found with tooth marks on their necks, as well as their blood partially drained. Vampires and cyberpunk - isn't this the best combination ever? Unlike the first two dark, gritty and bloody episodes, this one is more romantic in approach, leading to a great bittersweet ending.

Cyber City Oero is one of the earlier works of Yoshiaki Kawajiri, probably my most favorite anime director. He later went on to make such classics as Demon City Shinjuku, Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and Highlander: Vengeance. All his trademark elements are present here: fast, hard-hitting slam-bang-in-your-face action, curvy females, dark backgrounds, detailed character designs and loads of attention to atmosphere. There's blood all over the place, you can clearly see all the inventive futuristic ways of people and things hurting each other, though it does go a little over the top at some points - most notably, during Gogul's segment. Also, the animation is top notch, the plot is gripping, and the protagonists are likable, no matter how ass they can get at times.

One thing that needs to be addressed is the English localisation. While the voices are okay, the dubbing itself is done adequately, with all the slang, swearing and such. But the main difference between the English and Japanese versions is the music. In the original, we get a decent electronic soundtrack by Kazz Toyama, though the main selling points for it are the opening and closing songs, 'Burning World' and 'I May Be In Love With You'. However in the English version, the score was completely rewritten by Rory McFarlane in a more heavy metal oriented style. The credit songs are instrumental now, though, but still as catchy as their original counterparts. So take your pick, as both versions are equally strong and worth a watch.

Despite its obscurity, Cyber City Oedo 808 seems to be well popular and respected in the cyberpunk circles. It's real funny how IMDB has no less than two questions in their FAQ, asking if this anime is as good as its reputation goes. Thankfully, the folks who answered these questions, assured everybody that yes, it is a good movie that deserves much wider acclaim than just being a cult classic. There was also a videogame released, for the PC Engine CD, no less, however only in Japan. That's sad, as the anime was popular enough in the US, so I can't see a problem with releasing the game for TurboGrafx-16. From what I can gather looking at the screenshots, it's sort of a mix between Snatcher's visual novel style, and overhead adventure not unlike Shadowrun for Sega Genesis.

While Cyber City Oedo doesn't really raise any mind-boggling dilemmas of human existence, it really does excel in atmosphere and presentation. All the traditional cyberpunk ingredients are prominent here - high tech, low life, the police serving as your mega-corporation, the contrast of slums littered with junk and the glamorous skyscraper that reaches into space. You know, they say that cyberpunk is a likeable kind of future where nobody wants to live - that's this anime. Before I start repeating myself, I'd like to point out that Cyber City was one of the things that shaped my tastes and artistic preferences for life, as I rank it no lower than Star Wars or Tim Burton's Batman duology in this regard. All these beautiful movies have arrived just in right time at the right place, making yours truly the one who am I today. I can't be not biased when judging such things, but if you, too, saw Cyber City Oedo 808 when you were a child, you will understand me. These are the three 40-minute episodes larger than life!