Monday, 22 February 2016

#19: Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Director: Toyoo Ashida
Screenplay: Yasushi Hirano
Based on the light novels by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Cast: Kaneto Shiozawa/Michael McConnohie (as D); Michie Tomizawa/Barbara Goodson (as Doris Lang); Satoko Kitô/Edie Mirman (as Lamika); Seizo Katou/Jeff Winkless (as Count Magnus Lee); Ichirô Nagai (as Left Hand); Kazuyuki Sogabe/Kerrigan Mahan (as Rei Ginsei)
Watched with English Dub

Having only known of Vampire Hunter D through its two animated adaptations, the one I'm covering today and the more critically acclaimed follow up from 2000 by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, I'm a novice in my knowledge of a momentous pop cultural franchise. Like (entry # 16) Galerians: Rion (2002), I first heard of the franchise through a videogame tie-in in one of my old Playstation One magazines, though its origin as a series of light novels would go on to spawn many a tie-in beyond that game. A huge factor to these books' reputation is the art by Yoshitaka Amano, whose work if you research him on Google is some of the most beautiful and artistically satisfying to be created for a Japanese pop cultural object. His work and Vampire Hunter D in general, including the anime adaptations, are heavily influenced by European art and genre motifs, to the point the most beloved of the two anime, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust by Kawajiri, was a US-Japanese co-production where the English dub came first.

The influences and how Vampire Hunter D used them to create its unique world is ultimately the best virtue of the 1985 version alongside its OVA quality animation. Melding Gothic horror with the post-apocalyptic, with frontier western vibes crashing against post-medieval towns, it envisions a world thousands of years in the future where, after a calamity, mankind survives in a society scattered across apocalyptic wasteland where demons and mutants gladly co-exist, where werewolves prowl the lands and, in lieu of the title, vampires stalk the night and require paid vampire hunters to eliminate. A dhampir named D, half vampire and half mortal man, wanders the landscape being paid for jobs, the only constant being his left hand which, with a human face, is sentient and cannot shut up, mocking his attempts at resisting his vampiric blood. The plot is pretty basic after this established character is introduced over eighty minutes, a young woman named Doris Lang hiring D after an ancient vampire Count Magnus Less has marked her to be his bride. Like a lot of pulpy characters, as much in anime like this, its these characters including those introduced for a single story that bring out the personality, the plot thickened by a mutant who'll gladly help the Count in hope for immortality and the Count's own daughter Lamika who is appalled about both the idea of a mortal peasant joining their royal lineage and becoming her mother-in-law.

The basic nature of said plot, where D has to repeatedly struggle against new obstacles each scene, from ghouls to the aforementioned mutant, means that the entertainment is in the world itself being depicted onscreen. Horror, as mentioned in previous posts last year for Halloween, is a surprisingly neglected genre in anime, only starting to pick up in amount within the last ten years and especially with stuff like Tokyo Ghoul (2014) getting popular in animated and paperback form. While action orientated, seeing a Japanese work entirely devout to a fetish of European horror, even in the big eyed eighties character designs, is utterly welcoming.  The melding of science fiction and gothic horror manages, despite being potentially awkward bedfellows, to work in these two anime adaptations, reined in by the general tone and looks of both. They exhibit one of the most extreme, but ultimately satisfying, examples of a genre melting pot in how many influences there are - period townsfolk and frontier western clothing against robot horses, the vampire count dressed like Bela Lugosi against the bloodier violence of straight-to-video anime - and yet because of the art style this first adaptation makes it all seamlessly work together.

The animation style does add to the film immensely. The only real botch to this version decades on is that the female lead occasionally looks like a twelve year old in scenes, even in the context of the eighties character designs, certainly cringe worthy when you notice it when there's a scene where she melancholically tries to seduce D only for him to struggle with wanting to bite her neck. The gothic, realistic character designs of the 2000 version are the best, but as a film meant to bring the D character and his world to the video screen, the original eighties version is still handsome in quality and gets right the most important of the story in terms of the fantastical nature of it. Against anything from giants to an imp-like witch, the protagonist D exists in a world of the phantasmagoric melded with sci-fi; where the ruined castles would have to be dank and oppressive, where the pits below have the centuries old skeletons laid about from a war and snake women to seduce people, as the post-apocalyptic content is as appropriately bleak. The more unconventional aspects, such as D's talking hand, add to this is giving the film its own distinct personality. The only thing that spoils the general mood that is so well added are that, one, the original English dub is terrible with stilted line readings and, two, the end credit song is a wildly inappropriate New Wave influenced J-pop number, especially after the ending takes on both a sudden abstract series of seasonal changes and both a sombre, clean act of saying goodbye. The dub is only a problem depending on the version of Vampire Hunter D you see; now with the recent American re-release of the film, the company realising it Sentai Films had to create a new English dub due to the original dub's materials being too damaged for restoration. The end credit song however is one you're stuck with. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

#18: Wanna-Be's (1986)

Director: Yasuo Hasegawa
Screenplay: Toshimichi Suzuki
Based on the manga by Toshimichi Suzuki
Voice Cast: Eriko Hara (as Miki Morita); Miki Takahashi (as Eri Kazama); Akio Nojima (as Oki Sonada); Demon Kogure (as Himself); Eiko Yamada (as Bloody Matsuki); Shozo Iizuka (as Dr. Sawada); Shuuichi Ikeda (as Tetsuma Kidou); Urara Takano (as Buster Horiguchi)

I was a devoted fan of wrestling as a kid. Still to this day I have fondness to it but, paradoxically, whilst I keep up with everything that happens I don't actually watch that many shows or matches at all. Time management is an issue alongside the fact that the main provider of wrestling, the WWE, is a rollercoaster of peaks and valleys in terms of quality that I hesitate to dive back into. This means however that I come into a one-off anime like Wanna-Be's, no matter how silly the premise is, with a great interest because of its wrestling premise. Besides, consider wrestling has had Satanic cults, men being buried alive or placed in coffins, evil Christmas trees as wrestlers and anything up to, and possibly beyond, aliens the story of Wanna-Be's, about the secret conspiracy to splice monstrous DNA into female wrestlers to test its effect, is merely a walk in the park from some of the more absurd things that have taken place in real wrestling. Stuck in the centre of this is Miki Morita and Eri Kazama, the Wanna-Be's, a rookie tag team of female wrestlers - Miki the stubbon red head, and Eri the more calmer and noble green haired partner - who have to contend both with being guinea pigs for the experiments funded by a corrupt businessman and facing the Foxy Ladies, the crooked and vicious tag team champions who destroyed their friends the Dream Angels before.

The one distinct claim to fame Wanna-Be's has is that the character designs are by Kenichi Sonoda, who'd be more well known for hits like Bubblegum Crisis (1987-1991); in fair due to this particular anime these character designs are memorable and are missed in modern anime if just for their distinctness, the feminine grace of the female characters in particular, even as tough wrestlers, and the bright colours as depicted in them and their environments appealing. It's not surprising however, while I find this anime entertaining, that this is a case of something far more fun if viewed in context of being an oddity rather than a great work, never to be held up as a lost classic but brief and incredibly silly entertainment. What's surprising about Wanna-Be's returning to it is how violent it is, especially because of how it adapts professional wrestling to anime without exaggerating it far from the real thing. If there's one legitimately good thing about the anime, it's clear someone or a few people on the production staff were clearly wrestling fans who had knowledge on it, bringing a few missed snippets of the energy of such shows when you see the hordes of fans with handmade posters cheering the teams on. Particularly when you see the Foxy Ladies, and have knowledge of real female wrestling like and know of female wrestlers like Aja Kong and Bull Nakano, it's clear fans of female wrestling, which would've been popular in Japan when this anime was made right into the nineties, were on the production. This also means that the brief wrestling matches are pretty nasty to sit through.

Even if they are fighters  it's pretty nasty to see the heroines actually fighting the Foxy Ladies in the central scene of this short anime, with chains let alone backbreakers being used, even a fork appearing as if a character has been taken inspiration from the infamous American wrestler Abdullah the Butcher. As much of the wincing of mine I confess is due to my upbringing where, even if we live in a more progressive society where men and women are equal, we're still brought up seeing women being involved in violence as a taboo even if they are the instigators of it. In wrestling it still causes one to wince, especially when American wrestling for its attempts at making women just as strong as men is undercut by making them eye candy, has the kind of brutal matches between women that are a lot more common in Japan when such matches were taken as seriously as with those with men squaring off. Unlike other types of anime where fireballs and punches are thrown, but I never wince when a heroine is hurt during the brawl, I confess here it does hurt because the anime goes right to having character having trickles of blood come from the forehead and going for the type of moves that are done in real wrestling and, whether the participants are male or female, are meant to look nasty and down someone.

It also enforces how a female wrestling anime would be awesome to see. Anime has a few wrestling anime in existence, one so popular that its central figure Tiger Mask became a real wrestler whose lineage includes five Tiger Masks up to today. For Western fans of anime as well they might have caught up with Ultimate Muscle, aka. Kinnikuman, which I caught a few episodes of as a kid. Female wrestling stories are less common unfortunately, a shame as the legendary nature Joshi female wrestlers in Japan have is a huge one, one where incredibly dangerous and/or innovative moves were originally created by women and a serious tone existed that drastically contrasts with the glamour model template the WWE unfortunate have in the West of female wrestlers. One recent show exists called Wanna Be the Strongest in the World (2013), but by all accounts it's an anime whose existence is entirely for a limited audience whose fetish is scantily clad animated women writhing is sexualised pain as another woman applies a camel clutch or ankle lock on them. Whilst ideas of dominance and pain are a common sexual fetish, alongside women wrestling each other, it's understandable that wrestling and anime fans aren't necessarily going to like this presentation. Wanna-Be's is likely one of the only known anime about female wrestlers whether you like it or not, an irony considering its low regard.

The silliness of the story is another reason I like the anime too. Without spoiling it, it effectively turns into a final two-on-one brawl against a monstrous creature kept in a lab just as violent as the wrestling matches, and amongst the many things to learn from this anime, despite its minor nature, is that I come to anime as much for strange ideas like the entire of this story as I do for good stories. Wanna-Be's was as much a creation of the eighties when the Japanese economy was at its peak. Video, when it was introduced in the early eighties, needed product and like live action films so many odd anime were created back in this era that Western fans are only just learning of and placing VHS-rips of online. The amount of money in the economy allowed many peculiar creations to be animated, many I'll likely cover on the blog, as it did artistic endeavours and popular franchises.My regret with what was effectively the death of straight-to-video anime from the 2000s onwards was that, alongside the high artistic quality of many, it allowed a lot of oddities to inexplicably exist. Such absurdities that are fascinating to watch, even if they're lewd and crass, some even masterpieces, are still made today but not at the same level as when straight-to-video anime was a popular market that needed product for it. The reduction of such odd miscreants like Wanna-Be's is a sad thing worth mourning for.