An anime DVD boxed set.
True confession: My unwavering adoration of all that is mecha has lead to some odd anime acquisitions throughout the years. Case in point, Cybernetics Guardian from US Manga Corps. An OVA from the not-so-golden era of animation (1989), this was one of those spontaneous purchases made on the rebound of discovering two mecha box sets I had been counting down the days for (Zagapain and FLAG) were, without explanation, indefinitely discontinued. Why Bandai, why? Was my preorder money not good enough for you?
But I digress, like a lover scorned I found myself wandering the pages of Right Stuf! as if it were some poorly lit singles bar in effort to ease the heartache with a night of cheap substitutes to the real thing. Well, I thought to myself, you could use some of the refunded money to pick up the Appleseed and Patlabor OVAs that you love but never seem to get around to adding to the collection. Then there's a few Gundams (Seed Destiny 2 and 00) that I could preorder, wait hold up, what's this? A mecha OVA that I know absolutely nothing about? 1989- how can it be that it's been around for so long yet word of its very existence, has, until this very moment, eluded me? Well $9 for 45 minutes of entertainment, that's what- 20 cents per minute? 0.33333 cents per second. What the hell, add to cart. I'm feeling pumped- let's grab Appleseed and Patlabor while we're at it as well.
So I'll start with the good news: At least I had the solid judgment to order Appleseed and Patlabor! It turns out that Cybernetics Guardian's ability to fly below the proverbial radar for 20 years has a lot more to do with the fact that it sucks than it does poor publicity efforts. Let's begin at the beginning…
Packaged as a single disc set within a full-size DVD case, Cybernetics Guardian comes in at a runtime of 45 minutes even and surprisingly, does come with some pretty cool special features which include a DVD-Rom function that offers up scripts, storyboards, and the full credits (something you would think might belong elsewhere on the disc). In true sub & dub style, the language options include both an English dub and original Japanese dialog score (with English subtitles if so desired).
Interestingly enough the box contradicts itself by stating that the feature is both unrated and PG 13. The PG rating is appropriate for the most part, especially so depending upon exactly what it is that you define as offensive to the 12-year-old set. If poor pacing, a cheesy plot, and some odd character designs offend you, consider this a XXX feature. For the rest of us there is some heavy gore at times, a few horror-inspired sequences, and light cussing. No sexual scenarios to report and nudity is limited to a quick female breast shot that does, oddly enough, appear in the trailer for the film. I guess the old logic that sex sells was a strong point in this OVA's advertising campaign.
The story itself can best be described as haphazard with every slight thread of coherence quickly becoming lost to poor attempts at being unique. The setting takes place in the year 2019 (which is coming up quickly I should note) where humanity has, for the most part taken a turn for the worse. In effort to clean up the filth of the inner-city slums, a material discovered back in 1995 (Astenite) is going to be implemented into mobile armors called Guard Suits. Astenite is unique as it is a metal that harnesses psychic energy into mechanical force. The idea is to arm the police of the future with cybernetic Guard Suits in effort to clean up the slums. Okay I'll admit it; this sounds pretty interesting thus far, right? It is and for about two minutes a viewer could almost be convinced that this film is in fact an undiscovered mecha gem. Unfortunately all hope for this plot quickly unravels once an evil-brotherhood (masked cult) devotes their efforts to raising up ancient deities to inhabit their own asinine, er I mean Astenite suits. The logic here is that beings driven by hate and rage could really make some wicked use of this material (pun be damned).
Why their plan doesn't work is never really explained, all we do know is that the kid testing the suits for the good guys ends up becoming overtaken by a cloud of dark energy and hence becomes a killing machine of the worst kind. By worst kind I mean imagine an animated suit of armor with furry ape hands and a giant mane of flowing orange.
I'm convinced that I almost understand the motivation here: The man inhabiting the suit is good at heart but conflicted by the armor itself, which is being fueled by some ancient malicious idol brought back into our time thanks to that darn mysterious sect (named Doldo of all things). Kids- don't risk getting yourself in trouble by attempting to talk about this cult's name with your friends.
What we end up with a sort of antihero who goes on graphic killing rages despite a heart of gold deep within the hulking mess of a robot, or suit of armor, or whatever the hell this thing's supposed to be. I suppose I can risk a few spoilers here since, really, what are the odds of you actually ever seeing this OVA? In the end our hero prevails and drives out the entity, which, despite what you might expect, does not result in the suit of armor becoming any less obnoxious looking. Instead the viewer is left with an ax-wielding giant silver samurai with an even longer shock of orange hair (yes he retains the furry ape hands in case you were wondering). The big news is he's good again so don't go and cast your shallow dispersions.
There are a few bright spots worth noting- First of all, the art isn't that bad and for the first time in recorded history, this isn't a good thing. If the show looked as poor as the plot, it would be a lot easier to write this whole thing off and to simply give the DVD to some high schooler to hang from the mirror of his mom's station wagon. As it stands the show has a distinct manga-style about it with some scenes really looking like an animated comic-frame. Second the soundtrack is surprisingly good. It's often touted as metal but it's really more like the Japanese equivalent of the grungy stuff popular here in the States at the time (kind of like Guns and Roses in Japanese). You may not be able to decipher a single word of it, but it's surprisingly catchy and goes a long way to add a little pump-factor to an otherwise lackluster prose.
In all I knew I was in trouble the moment I noticed the OVA was classified as a "Cyberpunk Horror" film. What little science that may have potentially saved this train wreck is pushed to the backburner in favor of grotesque violence and monster-movie moments. In the end it was what I initially suspected as the film's biggest weakness that wound up being its saving grace: The 45 minute runtime. Like a bad date, visit to the dentist, or a trip to Mexico where you accidentally drank the water, this is an experience that simply can't come to an end quickly enough.
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