Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Obscure as Hell OAV Now Available: DEMON OF STEEL

I need a transforming action figure of this thing, STAT!

A little backstory: My Austrian flick-trading cohort discovered a rarely seen 1987 OAV by the name of 大魔獣激闘 鋼の鬼 (Daimaju Gekito HAGANE NO ONI), which roughly translates to "Demon of Steel: Battle of the Great Devil Beasts". The reason he bought the expensive and untranslated Japanese DVD was on the strength of its' staff, which included AIKAWA Shou (Fullmetal Alchemist, Urotsukidoji, Angel Cop) as screenwriter, OHATA Koichi (MD Geist, Genocyber) on mechanical (ie: monster) design, Naoyuki ONDA (Ai no Kusabi, Gantz, Ergo Proxy) on human character designs, and perhaps best of all, Toshihiki HIRANO (Devilman Lady, Kakugo no Susume, Iczer-1) helming directorial duties. Seriously, just slap Rintaro as the music video insert director and this would probably be the best hand picked staff a 1980s OAV could have asked for. With a dream team like this, it'd be surprising if they came up with a pile of crap, but what the hell is this lost artifact about in the first place?

In the year 1999, a UN research facility on the island of San Sarah tested a unique laser canon for the first time. While the experiment was a success, a strange phenomenon occured; from the hole ripped in the sea, a giant organic looking clump of steel emerged. A party to this strange ordeal, Takuya, has been called back to the facility by his friend Haruka some three years later under mysterious circumstances. Upon arriving he's thrilled to see his old friend (as is Lyse, who seems to be harboring a secret crush,) but Haruka - now a scientist developing Top Secret technology - tells Takuya that he never sent a letter. Later the same night, a major disturbance starts to strike the islands, a disturbance that can destroy electronic objects from afar, and stands over 20 meters tall. ..

What does this giant monster have to do with Haruka? If he didn't tall Takuya back, who did? Did I already mention that being a product of the 1980s it degenerates into a music video at random? Are we heading for a BIG KAIJU-MECHA BATTLE?

I don't plan on giving everything away. I need to keep you guys leeching and trading with me somehow.

While not the zenith of the OAV artform by a long shot - that honor goes to MEGAZONE 23 PART 2 and you all know it - Hagane no Oni is still a fine representation of what made 1980s direct to video projects so magical and unique. While animators prior had worked slavishly on cheap TV shows and movies designed to appeal to the masses, releasing projects direct to video without fear of censorship or stretching a budget far beyond a few episodes' worth of material allowed directors to create, effectively, whatever the hell they wanted to. Hagane no Oni is a prime example, being a self-contained and original story that makes fine use of its' roughly hour long runtime by cramming in a lot of interpersonal drama, neat Lovecraft inspired trans-dimensional invaders, and - being a piece of Japanese monster cinema - hulking skyscraper sized beasts beating the ever living crap out of each other, complete with the motif of their "pilots" (or maybe 'hosts' would be a better description) screaming in the most manly manner possible.

The character animation is competent, but occasionally unimpressive, with the majority of the budget reserved specifically for the complex dimension-shattering final battle. It was a wise move, as the production essentially goes from looking okay to being absolutely mesmerizing, until the abrupt - but reasonably logical - end. Both Aikawa's love for obscure world-religion imagery and Ohata's boner for obscenely complex bio-mechanical monstrosities are allowed to shine, and while I haven't yet pinpointed Hirano's common fetish I've yet to see a work he's directed that wasn't as full of surreal spectacle as it was fascinating human drama... but I've never seen ANGEL HEART, either. Whatever the case, the staff is firing on all cylinders on a modest budget, and the final result is a well crafted - but not breath taking - piece of pulp enhanced Japan centric Science Fiction.

If anything drags the whole down, it's probably the unassuming "epic" soundtrack that, despite having a moment or two of metal infused blood pumping, degenerates into horrible throaty man-angst rock for the image and ending songs. Don't get me wrong, they aren't anywhere near as cringe inducing as JESUS*JESUS in Riki-Oh, or that horrific 80s... noise, that was attached to the Starship Troopers OAV, but lord, it isn't good either.

As far as the technical presentation goes, the R2 DVD isn't all that bad. A 2002 release as part of the OVA Masterpiece Selection, the feature was obviously given a brand new telecine, and as such the print is nice and sharp with a coat of natural film grain and not a hint of dot-crawl. The transfer is even "mostly" progressive, slipping into interlaced mode only a few times. The only glaring flaw on the video I can spot is that - for whatever reason - the transfer is letterboxed to about 1.75:1, when an anamorphic transfer with just a bit of window-boxing on the sides to preserve the aspect ratio would have made the transfer ideal. Being the crazy fucker that I am, I placed the English subtitles in the image, so that if you choose to watch the show on a 16:9 monitor you can zoom in all the way without losing the translation.

Yes, 16:9 friendly. Why can't any "real" R1 anime studio be this considerate?

The audio is 384kbps stereo. A shame a R2 didn't go for an uncompressed PCM track, as they oft do, but the audio doesn't sound half bad either. The average video bitrate is 7.76Mbps. For extras there's a series of Ohata monster designs, and a collection of Pioneer OVA Classics trailers, including Hagane no Oni itself, as well as Maryu Senki, Iczer-One, and M.D. Geist, which means you get to watch tasty previews for all sorts of delicious looking Pioneer Japan owned classics. Sadly, Maryu Senki isn't available on DVD (in Japan or otherwise), which makes a gorgeous DVD quality trailer nothing but a tease after having seen the nearly unwatchable VHS tape of the first episode. That just isn't cool, man.

The most fascinating part of the actual Hagane no Oni trailer is that NONE of the trailer footage happens in the OAV! Seriously, the whole thing was slapped together based on concept art or, something: none of the characters are on model, the mood is far darker and more epic... while I certainly enjoyed seeing the OAV we got, I can't say I'd have minded the darker, more horror centric looking film we were promised, either.

As always, enjoy the show.

1 comment:

Kein said...

I wanted to know where I can buy some of your works. I'm a Kaze to ki no Uta fan and I really would like to see your version of this awsome OAV.