Stephen reviews: Dominion: Tank Police (1988)

Dominion: Tank Police [ドミニオン, Dominion] (1988)

Starring Hiromi Tsuru, Masaaki Ohkura, Ichirō Nagai, Jouji Yanami, Michie Tonizawa, Yuko Mita, Yūsaku Yara, Daisuke Gouri

Directed by Kōichi Masahimo & Takaaki Ishiyama


“Cyberpunk comedy” is not a genre that you see very often, yet that’s what I’ve got for you today. The original manga of Dominion was penned by Masamune Shirow, best known for Ghost in the Shell. If you’ve never read any of his manga, it may come as a surprise to find that Shirow has a thriving sense of humor, but most of his works are suffused with an absurdity that doesn’t often carry into their adaptations. Nevertheless, Dominion is probably his most comedic story, and this four-episode miniseries revels in that silliness as much as it revels in its degraded technological future.

The series plays a bizarre homage to the comedy routines of yesteryear, dredging up stock sound effects that seem more appropriate to vintage Hanna-Barbera cartoons or Three Stooges episodes than anime. Dominion is relentlessly goofy, and handles pretty much all of its violence with a lack of gravitas that seems at odds with its dystopian setting. The Tank Police themselves are equally laid back and unconcerned with following the rules. An early scene has them interrogating a suspect by playing croquet with assault rifles and hand grenades while the poor criminal stands precariously with a noose around his neck and a grenade stuffed in his mouth. The squad’s chaplain tells him it’s better to rat out his friends and join them in jail than to abandon them and go to heaven alone. Things go downhill from there.

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Stephen reviews: Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

tokyo_godfathersTokyo Godfathers [東京ゴッドファーザーズ] (2003)

Starring Aya Okamoto, Toru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Kouichi Yamadera, Kyouko Terase, Mamiko Noto, Seizo Katou, Yuusaku Yara, Satomi Koorogi

Directed by Satoshi Kon


This is the most normal anime Satoshi Kon made. There’s nothing in it at all that’s confusing or mind-bending. Absurdly improbable, sure, but not flat-out bizarre. The film’s world functions in a more or less realistic way. This did leave me a bit bored with it early on. I love the more psychedelic aspects of his other films, so I was disappointed to see a relatively down-to-earth narrative here. But as the film went on, and the characters grow more depth, I too grew more attached to them.

The concept is simple enough. Three homeless people find an abandoned baby in a trash pile on Christmas Eve. Then they spend the next week until New Year’s Eve searching for the child’s parents. As a holiday film, it has its share of Christmas miracles, but it’s not just some sappy happily-ever-after fairy tale. The main characters are all homeless, and there is always a palpable sense of bleak despair hiding behind even the most cheerful scenes of the film. Kon walks a razor’s edge here as he makes a film that is both uplifting and depressing at the same time.

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Stephen reviews: A Time Slip of 10,000 Years: Prime Rose (1983)

553689-primerose_largeA Time Slip of 10,000 Years: Prime Rose [タイムスリップ 10000 年 プライム・ローズ] (1983)

Starring Yuu Mizushima, Mari Okamoto, Junko Hori, Katamasa Komatsu, Kaneto Shiozawa, Shuuichi Ikeda, Yuusaku Yara

Directed by Osamu Dezaki & Satoshi Dezaki


It’s time for another Osamu Tezuka film, and it’s one I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time now. The few images I had seen of it convinced me that it was going to be crazy, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s very unusual for a Tezuka film, and I’m a bit flummoxed on what to think of it. For one thing, it has virtually no cameos of other Tezuka characters. I only noticed one small appearance by Ban Shunsaku, and the cast felt somewhat lonely without the usual ensemble of familiar faces.

The film also has a much more defined narrative flow. The other Tezuka films I’ve reviewed have all bounced between tangents in a manner that anyone unfamiliar with his works would likely find jarring. But Prime Rose rarely deviates from its central course. The comedy elements are also downplayed a bit. It has plenty, but the jokes don’t saturate the film in the same way that they do in most Tezuka stories.

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Stephen reviews: Black Lion (1992)

blacklion-1Black Lion [時元戦国史 黒の獅士 陣内編 Jigen Sengokushi Kuro no Shishi: Jinnai-hen] (1992)

Starring Yasunori Matsumoto, Yuusaku Yara, Ai Orikasa, Kan Fujimoto

Directed by Takashi Watanabe


I’ve been taking a break for a while, and I wanted to come back with a great movie that would capture the spirit of anime and the whole reason I love it. Something that really captures the essence of the medium. Which brings me to Black Lion, a short film about cyborgs and ninjas in ancient Japan. Jackpot.

Now you might be wondering why there would be cyborgs in ancient Japan, and the answer is simple. Cyborgs are awesome, and ninjas are awesome. So if you put the two together you get something even more awesome. Do you really need an explanation for something that awesome? If you do, then you have come to the wrong place, my friend. Cyborgs fighting ninjas is always awesome, no matter what the reason.

The plot starts with Oda Nobunaga out conquering the area. In this tale, however, he has an army of robot samurai armed with machine guns. His army rips apart the opposing soldiers armed with mere spears and bows. The arsenal quickly escalates to missiles, tanks, lasers, and orbiting spaceships. The conventional firearms of the sixteenth century can’t stand up to the onslaught.

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Stephen reviews: Wicked City (1987)

Wicked City [妖獣都市, Yoju Toshi] (1987)

Starring Yuusaku Yara, Toshiko Fujita, Ichirô Nagai, Takeshi Aono, Mari Yokoo.

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri


It’s time to get out of the kiddie pool and head for the royally fucked up pool. I have thus far in my reviewing career avoided the nastier areas of anime, but that had to end sometime, and October’s horror marathon is as good a place as any to head over to the dark side. Wicked City is yet another Hideyuki Kikuchi adaptation, and like Demon City it is directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. If I was to compare that film with Vampire Hunter D, I would have to say that Toyoo Ashida was the better director for adapting Kikuchi’s works, but here Kawajiri proves that he really can handle the job just as well, if not better.

The animation is damn good, just like all his other films that I have seen, although the beginning moments felt below average. I was initially disappointed, but as soon as the first monster shows up it amps up the quality and never looks back, matching Demon City for gorgeous and grisly visuals. There’s not much outright gore, though. It’s more about crazy nasty monsters lurking around every corner than blood and guts splattered everywhere.

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Stephen reviews: Demon City Shinjuku (1988)

Demon City Shinjuku [魔界都市 (新宿) Makai Toshi (Shinjuku)] (1988)
AKA Hell City Shinjuku, Monster City

Starring Hideyuki Hori, Hiromi Tsuru, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Kyouko Tonguu, Yuusaku Yara, Asami Mukaidono, Ichirō Nagai

Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri


The next anime based on Hideyuki Kikuchi novels is directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, the same guy that brought us Ninja Scroll. Considering how awesome that film was, I was eagerly looking forward to this one. It certainly has the animation quality to match that later work, which surprised me coming from an ’80s anime, but unfortunately it left me a bit disappointed in other aspects.

The movie starts out strong, with a kick-ass sword fight across the rooftops of Tokyo that ends with the destruction of Shinjuku. (For the confused at this point, Shinjuku is not actually a city. Rather, it is one of the special wards of Tokyo.) Authorities believe it’s a bizarre earthquake, but we know better. That crazy evil guy we just saw was actually summoning demons to take over the world, and now Shinjuku is under their control. Fast forward 10 years, and Shinjuku is now a haunted wasteland filled only with villains, the dregs of humanity, and the demons that hunt them.

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Stephen reviews: Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Vampire Hunter D [バンパイアハンターD] (1985)

Starring Kaneto Shiozawa, Michie Tomizawa, Seizo Katou, Satoko Kitō, Kazuyuki Sogabe, Ichirō Nagai, Keiko Toda, Yuusaku Yara

Directed by Toyoo Ashida


Like many budding anime fans of the ’90s, I first saw this film when Cartoon Network aired it on television. And while I did eventually see the unedited version, it has been many long years since I last watched it. It hasn’t been quite as long since I read the novel it was based upon, which is easily available in English these days, but it has still been quite a few years, and my memories of both are a bit fuzzy. This was also my first time seeing the film subtitled, and as distant as my previous memories are, I noticed some odd translation differences in this version. Differently spelled names are nothing new, but I was interested in the way they referred to Dracula this time. In the other versions of the tale he is called the “noble ancestor” or “sacred ancestor” of vampires, but this translation calls him “ancestor god,” which conveys a slightly different view of outright worship and prayer rather than simple respect and looking up to him as an example.

As you might have guessed by the mention of Dracula, this film takes a more traditional Bram Stoker approach to vampires. In fact, the original novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi is dedicated to the cast of the 1958 Hammer film, Dracula. The main villain of Vampire Hunter D is Count Magnus Lee, and he looks every bit the classic vampire with a black cape and elegant clothes to match his calm and regal demeanor. His first appearance at the beginning of the film is ominous and sinister, with lightning flashes giving his face a completely different appearance, and it’s hard to decide which looks more frightening. I am glad that his victim, Doris, had the presence of mind to shoot him with her laser rifle. Her role is never more than the typical damsel in distress, but at least she isn’t a pathetic and helpless idiot. Not that Lee gives a crap. Like Darth Vader, he just lets the gunshots bounce off him. And in a contest between the two, my money might not be on Vader. Right from the first you know Magnus Lee is an indomitable force of evil.

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