Friday, May 18, 2007

RAMBO: The Anime?!

Well... basically, yeah. Except I don't remember Rambo sucking nearly this much.

For those of you not in the know, AIKAWA Shou (aka AIKAWA Noburo... that's not to be confused with Show AIKAWA, the star of Miike's Zebraman and D.O.A Trilogy) is perhaps the single most awesome anime screenwriter the world has ever known. This may seem like a worthless distinction at first - after all, the majority of anime is based on some already existing property (like a manga or PC game), and the director has total control over pretty much every aspect of production... except scheduling and budget, of course. Producers have to do something to make money, I guess. At face value, most anime script writers take the story that's already there, and figure out what portions of it can be stripped away and turned into a single, digestible entity. All the same, there are so many talented directors in this world that, when handed a poor script, give you a steaming pile of illogical shit that, had there been enough of a decent story to start with, would have become a masterpiece. Case in point: Paul W. D. "Motherfucker" Anderson, director of Mortal Kombat, Alien versus Predator, Resident Evil and plenty of other properties that probably never should have hit the big screen, was capable of one, yes, one genius film in the form of Event Horizon. Why was that film good when everything else he's done has sucked, from the "eh" of Mortal Kombat to the endless raw pain that is AvP?

Simple. He didn't write the script for Event Horizon. Philip Reisner, a man who's limited credits I'm not otherwise familiar with, had enough set logic and entertainment before Anderson got there to let the man's love for cutting edge special effects and exciting set pieces do the work while the actors made the film otherwise palpitable and even amusing. With a good screen writer, Anderson is capable of wonderful things. Without... the movie will look pretty good, have about 2 great scenes and suck endlessly otherwise. A screenwriter can even drag down perfectly competent directors... but that's another story.

With this in mind, let's look over some of the titles that Aikawa's written for:

Urotsukidoji, Angel Cop, Genocyber, Violence Jack: Evil Town, YOMA, The Demon Beast Front, Martian Successor Nadesico, and Vampire Princess Miyu. And these are just the shows I've actually SEEN (and I have Yotoden, Casshern, and his new original show Ayakashi Ayashi on hand that I'll be watching sooner than later). If that isn't an impressive track record, I don't know what is. And this isn't including 12 Kingdoms, RahXephon, Gad Guard... you get the point. He's good, is what I'm saying. And even if you don't like him or the shows themselves, look me in the eye and tell me that Urotsukidoji, Fullmetal Alchemist and 12 Kingdoms aren't good. Go ahead.

That's what I thought.

But, it's with a heavy heart that I tell you I've done the impossible. I've watched a shitty Aikawa show. That's not to say that it's awful, or the worst show imaginable. I mean, it is a hell of a lot better than, say, Star of David or Riki-Oh 2. But a hard kick in the nuts is equally more refreshing than Riki-Oh 2, so that's not an amazingly great compliment. It also isn't a series of stills with no discernible story to hold it together like Babel II TV or Genma Taisen. There is worse anime available, by far and wide... there's just very little good to find in DOG SOLDIER: Shadows of the Past, and what little good there is just isn't worth the time.

Directed with little flair and only a somewhat notable budget by EBATA Hiroyuki - who's probably best known in the US for having directed the confusing but pretty CLAMP partial-epic RG VEDA OVA series in 1991 - Dog Soldier introduces us to John HIBA Kyosuke, a Japanese soldier of fortune who, having grown up in the slums of California took up a job with the Pentagon. When he refused to kill innocent people in god-forsaken war torn lands, Uncle Sam let him go and let him live a simple, peaceful life as a construction worker in Japan. All that goes to hell when his childhood friend Cathy is kidnapped, and The Dog Soldier (along with a grumpy meat-headed sidekick voiced by Daisuke GOURI) has to match wits with Phantom, an arms dealer who snatched Cathy due to her connection with the Pentagon's BC weapons division. Meeting with John, Cathy reveals that it wasn't a weapon she stole... it was an AIDS vaccine. If that wasn't a shock, Phantom joins the party, and is none other than John's other childhood friend, Makoto Alan TAKAMURA. Leaving John for dead, the CIA picks him up and sends him to Makoto's island to recover the serum before Phantom can auction it off to the highest bidding country, save Cathy, and settle the score with Makoto once and for all.

If this sounds like it has potential... well, it did and wasted every single opportunity to use it. The titular John (a name chosen just incase anyone didn't notice he looks exactly like Stallone) is actually all over the place, some scenes playing a smart-mouthed fool and others playing a veritable reaper in the jungle with nothing but a string of elastic and his trusty combat knife. I'd call him McGuyver for the heroin junkie styled bow string... but I just don't care enough to. His sidekick proves to be pretty worthless... and exactly where he goes for 1/3 of the video is never adressed. Oh well. Concepts like power corrupts, you need to protect your loved ones... eh, it's so fucking cliche, even circa 1989, that it just doesn't matter. Jungle action is arguably the highlight, and while watching two guys take on a fucking tank in psuedo-Nam should be awesome, the execution is just... eh. I was more excited by the special op dudes earlier in since they were 0wned by a damned fire hoze. THAT was funny. It also featured a gore scene... involving a crocodile. No real human gore (or impressive human gore) is to be found. Yawn.

The worst part in all this - and if SPOILERS ain't your thing, keep walking - is the fact that the AIDS vaccine isn't real. Not that "it doesn't exist outside of Rambo: The Anime", but that the serum is ineffective. It was a ruse to trick other countries into thinking America could infect other countries with AIDS and be okay. Um... what? I'm sorry, can you say that part one more time? Seriously, that Makoto would even sell it knowing it's a fake (but Cathy, who designed it, wouldn't know it was fake!) I can buy... but how the hell are you going to use the AIDS as a biological weapon? Chuck a homo in the water hole and hope it works? Roving gangs of AIDS infested CIA hookers? The idea (like most political thrillers) is so goddamn stupid that it immediately kills any attempt you had at taking it seriously, and since even the retard-o fun factor is low, the appeal is just... not there. It was probably there as a "button pusher" to get people all riled up and offended at the time... it was the 80's, after all. I'm just praying that the original manga made this shit up and that Aikawa didn't reach deep into his Nazi Deutschland-loving anoos and create it specifically for the OVA. Mercifully, I don't care enough to find out. /SPOILERS

Oh yeah... Aikawa's fascination with the Aryan Race while putting down non-Japanese society remains true, though in more subtle ways than super powered Hebrews crying to create Jewtopia in Angel Cop, or transporting the heroes of Fullmetal Alchemist to pre-Nazi Germany. A character (though who I won't say - it's not spoiler time anymore) lost his parents due to a love affair between a Catholic and a Japanese, and if his blatant racism and xenophobia was kept in check, it's made up for by presenting the American Secret Service as a pack of gun-crazy carpet-bombing crazy people who use everyone in their grasp as puppets to meat any end they deem necessary. Oh, like most political fiction.

KAMIYA Akira plays John, WAKAMOTO Norio plays Mokoto, and DOI Mika plays Cathy. All three of them amazing and talented actors who are utterly wasted on the material. Kamiya especially (my main man Kenshirou) plays his character hard and fast, injecting a genuine sense of nostalgia and humor into a character that has to be totally serious when the chips are down. Wakamoto (Cell of Dragonball Z, Vicious in Cowboy Bebop, and Perverted Pac-Man - swear to god - in 2x2 Shinobuden) is effective, but I'm just not feeling much here. I can't tell if he was trying to make the character as heartless and transparent as was humanly possible... or if he just didn't give a fuck. He's an amazingly talented man, so either is completely possible. Doi (Tomoyo in the Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal OVA)? Eh... she was fine, but her character wasn't overly complex. Just kind of a manipulative bitch, really, and she didn't have much range to show for it.

The worst part about Dog Soldier is that while no single element is horrendously bad (save maybe for the spoileriffic thing I mentioned above), there just isn't anything... good about it, either. Want an action packed cheese fest of many proportions? Go watch Rambo II or Fist of the North Star '86. Want guys with mullets killing each other hardcore? The first Riki-Oh OVA will do you just fine. Want quality Wakamoto, Doi and Kamiya? There's a hundred better things they've been in. Go watch them instead. It's a cheap and simplistic piece of "Golden Age" anime trash, and without being horrendously bad it's not even all that funny. It could have been a masterpiece, and instead we get a bit of a fart in a thunderstorm from a cast and writer who have proven themselves better. Even director Ebata did circles around this in RG Veda, and considering how painfully segmented the adaptation of the original manga was that's not a very good sign. RG Veda (without having read the manga... guilty.) doesn't make sense, but it is pretty, and interesting, and even exciting. Dog Soldier makes sense, it's just unimpressive at every level. Don't let the hype from some ancient reviews saying it's the most heinous anime ever made get you pumped. It's not that bad. It's just... not... anything at all.

Oh, the less said about the ending song, "Sissy on the Roof", the better.

To be fair to Dog Soldier however, every imaginable aspect - acting, writing, animation, pacing, logic - beat the god-awful 1986 Rambo: The Force Of Freedom cartoon show by a country mile, so it can lay claim to "The Best Rambo Cartoon Ever Made" without much of a fight. (A shame that's sorta like saying you have the biggest penis in an 8cm or under contest.) That atrocity made GI JOE look pretty decent, and was awful enough it only lasted a single season. The cartoon was aimed at preteens, and as such it ditched the entire Vietnam and Shell Shock aspect that... y'know, was Rambo. In the end it became GI JOE without shirts. It's a wonder it only lasted 1 season... maybe if the guys behind Dog Soldier had the budget Force of Freedom was given we'd have had an entertaining multi-episodic soap opera of dumb and exciting manly action instead of a convenient set of coincidences that lead to a dissatisfying conclusion.

Oh yeah: Dog Soldiers were Cheyenne warriors who were willing to play it to the end back when. Considering that John is a Japanese who grew up in the slums of L.A., he surely hung out with Native Americans all the time and developed their ways of listening to prey with their ear on the ground, and smoking the peace pipe. Just... worth bringing up before I write this whole experience off as sheer pain.

If for some goddamn reason you want to see it, let me know. Dog Soldier isn't on DVD, and the VHS subtitled copy I have does the trick. There was a Japanese LD, and (amazingly!) an American LD from Central Park Media with both English and Japanese dialog (with closed caption subtitles, I assume). Well, my buddy Caterpillar bought the tape so I could make him a viewable copy outside of NTSC land, and I promise you I'm not upgrading this. Ever.

Oh well. Next up is TOWARDS THE TERRA, a movie that plays like a shounen epic, looks like a shoujo girlie book, and has more than 1 sequence of shota cock. Yep', I <3 Takemiya Keiko.

Maybe if y'all are good I'll go blah-blah-blah about RAOU DEN 2: GEKITOU SHOU sometime soon. Oh, wait... I still owe you one on Murakami, don't I? Fuck. I'll get to that later. Eventually. Maybe.