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All That Jazz

So recently I just got the second edition of the Anime That Jazz cover collection, and it was again an impressive record. I don’t really know the exact circumstances of these records, but there have also been a lot of jazz cover albums of some iconic or popular anime songs. The first Anime That Jazz record was a great listen–I remember the Lupin III theme being one of the stand-outs–and this one is no different. The second one has a few stand-out tracks, namely Arakawa Under the Bridge‘s OP cover, Venus to Jesus and a single from K-ON. I never knew that song would transfer well into jazz, of all things (Yakushimaru Etsuko‘s song made the transition quite well, too). The cover of Tank! was a bit of a let-down, though. Maybe it was because the original song was just that good, or I’m just being a zealous fan of Kanno again.

For the longest time, I’ve had the urge to watch some older OVAs from the 80s-90s. I don’t think it was a nostalgia attack, however, but rather a legitimate bout of curiosity. Back in that period, my only exposure to anime was the TV, and I was limited to whatever the stations chose to air. I’ve never even heard of these OVAs until I started watching anime seriously (haha) a couple or so years ago. I’ve also heard a lot of things about them, and I wanted to check them out for myself. There’s no other way of confirming them other than watching, so that’s what I did.

 

 

Riding Bean (AIC, Kenichi Sonoda)

This one was a thrill. Few anime nowadays take the Hollywood shoot-em-up route when it comes to action–with the notable exception being Black Lagoon–and Bean does that quite aptly. There have been some gunslinging action anime during this period–Dirty Pair, Bubblegum Crisis, Gunsmith Cats, Burn-Up come to mind (I’ve seen a few episodes of Bubblegum back in the day, which was an enjoyable experience). It’s curious to see why there has been a decrease in these kinds of anime. Changing trends and fan interest, perhaps? Whatever it is, anime needs something like this every once in a while.

Bean, to my knowledge, is a sort of prequel to Gunsmith which also shares the distinction of being based off a manga by Kenichi Sonoda. As is the case with almost every adaptation I watch, I haven’t read the source material for both of them, nor have I seen the short OVA for Gunsmith. I really need to fix that soon. Despite that, there really is no problem with jumping right in this OVA. Bean was a thrill through and through, with high-tension vehicular and gunplay action seemingly for every other scene. Sonoda‘s works are apparently known for their attention to detail and realism in terms of weapons design and firearm realism, and I noticed a bit of that. The designers of the OVA did a good enough job with the details of the firearms, and in turn that gave the anime a stable base for realism. The action was done in familiar Hollywood-style, but I thought it wasn’t as over-the-top. Even Black Lagoon was wackier than this. Sure, Bean was nigh-unkillable, and the anime never bother to explain why, but you still get the sense that the whole circumstances surrounding him was at least grounded in reality.

In terms of story, there really wasn’t anything worthwhile here. It felt like a chapter or two of the manga got lifted and animated, so essentially, you’re left to fend for yourself trying to grasp things. However, it’s not that steep of a learning curve, and I got used to it very quickly. The OVA does say the important things–like Bean’s job and such–and that’s pretty much everything you need. The plot is paper-thin, being a simple kidnapping incident, but the characters involved in it were quite interesting, and I thought I could watch a full series with those guys. I also found it neat that most of the female characters weren’t helpless archetypes as is common in anime, but they were quite reliable and tough, even. The little trick Bean’s partner pulled at the end struck me as particularly clever, for example.

Another one of the OVA’s high-lights for me was the music. Normally I wouldn’t feel at ease with 80s songs in my anime, but it was a good decision for the staff to put them in here. Music can be used to set the tone and the feel of any presentation, and the music in Bean tells the viewers that this anime is in the mold of the 80s-90s Hollywood action films. Some of them were quite catchy as well, and for some reason I was reminded of Hironobu Kageyama‘s songs for MD Geist, which I found funny. Besides the music, there seems to be a certain amount of meticulous detail in everything else aside from the weapons. Of particular note were the cars. They were realistically rendered, and the FX used alongside them were well done too. It’s quite clear that the production staff put a considerable amount of thought into this. That’s one of the main differences between OVAs and normal TV productions, I guess. In TV anime, people are allowed to get away with blatant budget-saving tactics, but in OVAs there seems to be more effort.

The main problem with Riding Bean is that there’s too little of it. The OVA itself does a good job at raising the thrill level and making it consistent, but in the end you’re just left hanging. I found myself asking “is that it?” when the credits started rolling, and I would have preferred there to be at least 15 more minutes added to it or something. The whole thing wasn’t a waste, but 45 minutes was just too short for me. But I guess that’s the point. These one-shot OVAs were presumably produced as infomercials of sorts for their source materials–as in TV anime, and I think this one succeeded quite well at it. It’s just a good thing these were made in the first place.

Surprisingly, Megumi Hayashibara makes an appearance in Riding Bean as one of the antagonists. I honestly didn’t recognize her here in what I presume is one of her first roles, and it was only during the credits that I realized it. Frankly, I was blown away. Hayashibara is in my opinion, one of the best voice actresses in anime, and this was another proof. I would have never thought of her doing work here, and her voice-work sounded nothing like her more popular roles–Bebop’s Faye or Slayers’ Lina for example.

 

 

Plastic Little (Studio Pierrot, Satoshi Urushihara)

Oh man, if there was a title for “master character designer”, Satoshi Urushihara would be among the top of that list. His character designs/illustrations were always very appealing, and it’s a good thing he was given the chance to display them in an anime. Many years later he was put in charge of that seminal H OVA Another Lady Innocent, and Plastic Little should serve as a basis for people to see how his designs work in animation. It’s just too bad that he hasn’t found animation work since then, but at least he’s still drawing manga–H, at that.

Judging from the illustrations alone and Urushihara’s name, I knew I was in for a treat. And Plastic Little delivered. The OVA was a 48-minute delightful romp through a sci-fi/fantasy landscape, and it was also a treat for the eyes, especially seeing how Urushihara‘s  characters were moved. You can just safely disregard everything and only focus on the faithfully rendered characters, and you won’t exactly lose anything. I’d say the OVA was character presentation, and it did a very good job.  It’s nothing more than that.

Urushihara‘s work won’t be complete without hot females and fanservice, and Plastic delivered on that department. In fact, this whole OVA delivered more high-quality art and animation compared to most H OVAs out there. Only a few people can beat Urushihara at his own game, and this one should be him near the top of his game. Lady Innocent was one of the most elegantly produced H OVAs ever made, in my opinion, and to this day it remains at the top, if not near it. His characters are shiny and detailed, as usual, and that’s always nice.

As usual, there isn’t really much in the way of a credible story here, and there’s really no problem with that. It’s a usual sci-fi/fantasy story set in a futuristic alien world, and the characters are all stock characters normally found within that genre. Sometimes anime just needs to be very nice and fun to look at to be enjoyable, and Plastic is an example of that. It’s quite stupid to expect a masterfully crafted epic every time you watch an anime, forgetting the fact that it’s only one of the main facets of animation. Animation is designed to be nice to watch, in the first place. Besides, an anime that fits the criteria for being considered a well-written masterpiece is very, very rare–Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Giant Robo come to mind for examples.

The OVA itself was quite satisfying from beginning to end, but there seems to be a problem looming over it. I guess it’s the fact that there will never be more of it, or to be more specific, there won’t be any anime with faithful renditions of Satoshi Urushihara‘s designs. He’s apparently done some jobs in animation for some time, but a full-fledged anime production with him at the helm in the art department seems to be an impossibility. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, though, since looking at his illustration work tells you that his characters are quite hard to move. It’s already impressive for the staff to be able to do it consistently for 48 minutes, but extending that even further is going to be hard work, which I think no one in the industry today would risk to do. I’ve heard some things in that vein about Lady Innocent, and it shows. Some of his characters in that OVA were too detailed, which would put a strain in their movement, and if someone would remove those details, it wouldn’t feel 100% Urushihara anymore. I’ve also heard that Urushihara himself was hard to work with and was quite demanding, but I’m not too sure if that’s true. It’s just really too bad that he probably won’t get another major job in anime for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of surprising voice actor appearances, Norio Wakamoto himself has a major role in Plastic Little. His role was again the typical hardboiled badass character, but his voice remains as clear and powerful as ever. His role as Reuenthal in Legend of the Galactic Heroes is the one I’ve always considered as his best in terms of pure voice acting, and it’s nice to hear bits and pieces of that in his role in Plastic. Wakamoto was quite the talented voice actor, but nowadays it seems as if he’s just solely used for gimmick purposes. His uniquely powerful booming voice was truly his own, and the industry cashed in on that. Even his role as Alexander Anderson in Hellsing: Ultimate has traces of that, despite the fact that it was supposed to be a serious role. But whatever, his voice is one of the most awesome voices in anime ever, and I oftentimes find myself not being able to care whether it’s just used for gimmicks now or not.

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