DVD Look: Cyber City
Yoshiaki Kawajiri has directed a number of titles, but I think perhaps this is my favorite so far. Kawajiri is famous for directing Ninja Scroll, the Highlander anime, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust and a number of other titles over the years. Once upon a time he had quite the fan following the US, but now he is barely mentioned. Perhaps someone will talk about Ninja Scroll and mention his name in passing but that’s about it. Anyway Kawajiri is (was?) known for ultraviolent, dark, and edgy series. And this is not a diversion from such titles. Kawajiri tends to focus in on the action, and likes to deal with very flawed characters sometimes. Again he sticks to his roots here.
Cyber City, also known as Cyber City Oedo 808 is an action/science fiction OVA series with 3 episodes. The animation was done by Madhouse Studios in 1990, it was written by Akinori Endo , and Central Park Media released it stateside on VHS and later DVD. Manga Entertainment released the VHS in the UK. Anyway it is about a couple of criminals who are given a chance to get out of prison. Of course it’s not a get out of jail free card, it’s never that easy is it? They must work for it, and work hard they shall. They must perform a number of missions for the government, and for each mission they accomplish a few years are taken off their insanely long sentences (one of the characters has a whopping 375 years left to serve at the start of the series). You see these aren’t any old convicts, they are terrible terrible human beings, who committed more crimes than they can remember. Murder, theft, Assault, Jaywalking it’s all there…wait. The city government needs more police, so hey why not take the worst scum, and make them work for good for a change right? And hey since they are criminals themselves perhaps they can deal with cracking down on crime just from experience. And maybe they will have an advantage to dealing with criminals since they’ll know all their tricks and can use them against them. These specific guys are chosen because of how tough they are, and how good they are at what they do. So yeah you’re dealing with MANLY men here (ok well not really with Benten…but he’s a true enigma). The story takes place in year 2808, where there are super skyscrapers, space elevators, and more sci-fi gadgets to play around with then your local Radio Shack has. These convicts must join up with the “cyber police” the police force of this futuristic city, and fight criminals, track down bad guys, or do whatever else they are ordered to do. And to make sure these criminals don’t just run off the first chance they get, they are all forced to wear a collars around their necks, that could blow up at one push of a button. If this setup sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because it’s basically lifted straight out of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. But hey it’s a great concept, so sometimes you just gata screw originality.
And although the series focuses on action, it’s not afraid to get a little psychological at times. I’m not going to lie to you and claim this is as deep as “Neon Genesis Evangelion” or anything, but there is some real substance here, and that does surprise me a bit. Yes this somehow manages to be a character study. A rather interesting one too I may add. The three main convicts are; Sengoku Syunsuk, arguably the main character and the token smart ass whose good with a gun, Gabimaru “Gogul” Rikiya the big tough looking hacker, who’s best weapon is his own mind, and finally Benten Yanagawa, a rather eccentric character I still can’t put my finger on. As the series progresses it becomes apparent one episode will be devoted to each character, and I rather liked this format. A major point of the series is dealing with who these criminals are and how they interact with others. And although we never learn too much, it does give us great insight into who these people are, why they are criminals, and why they are so screwed up. This is perhaps Cyber City‘s deepest aspects. Although this does get brushed aside many times for more focus on the great action scenes, you have to respect the attempt. And the action scenes were some great stuff too I may add. But of course, on the large this is a shallow, yet fun action series. I did enjoy the fact that some deeper issues are at least dealt with a little bit. The action scenes are very crazy, exciting, and very well done. They are very violent, bloody and well choreographed. The action scenes have a style to them only Kawajiri can really pull off, and they are very fun! Oh and of course they are extremely over the top, but you figured that out that by now didn’t you? Another strong point of the series is the interactions between the three main characters, and between their boss Hasagawa. Many a time Hasagawa will order them to do something, the characters will say that it is clearly impossible, and Hasagawa just won’t give a damn. He demands it to be done, and so he sets their collars to blow up in only an hour’s time! “Get to it boys!” He’ll say. He’s never interested in what these guys have to say, and they always try to get back at him with little smart remarks when they can. The way the three main convicts play off each other is also interesting. The characters bickering and bantering never manages to get old. Benten is usually the butt of Sengoku’s jokes, and the way Benten re-acts is usually very funny. A great example of this is when Benten must slowly try to get down a hallway that’s rigged with a top of the line security system. He has to slowly make his way down the hallway, and avoid tripping any of the sensor lasers and activating the system. He also has to avoid being killed by the lasers because when they kill whoever they hit. Sengoku is told to try and find away around the system, and when he does, he is told to go ahead and try and complete the mission without Benten. When he manages to do everything on his own and come out, he sees Benten and yells “That’s as close as you GOT? Well nevermind…” Cleary he’s screwing with Benton here. The way this all happened made me fall off my seat. It was really hilarious. Gogul is usally the more reasonable one of the three, and tells one of them not to run off and do something because it may get them killed, so of course they ignore him and go do it anyway! Hah these three sure understand the basics of teamwork don’t they? It’s a miracle they don’t all die. The many missions these characters go on for the city are never as straight forward as Snake Plissken’s quest to retrieve the President in Escape from New York. Each mission is very unique, and pushed to their absolute limits. For example the first episodes mission requires Sengoku to save 50,000 people held hostage in a super-skyscraper. Yeah they don’t screw around. Not 500, not 5,000, but 50,000 people are at risk here. And that’s really how big the building is too. This is the strongest episode in the series, although each episode has its own little charm. And all the missions are very over the top in style. Again this is probably intentional, and they’re never really campy. The series is very dark, gloomy, and a little depressing at times. But this is countered with a great sense of humor, that relies on dark comedy, and never failed to get me to laugh.
As for the artwork in this series, it’s VERY well detailed for a 1990 production. This was perhaps top of the line animation and artwork of this era. So there’s very little to complain about. This is probably as good as it gets for early 90’s anime, so do enjoy. The art style is done in a gloomy, depressing style. But it may be a little too gloomy at times. The color palette is filled with dark blues, something Kawajiri seems to really like and this adds to the sci-fi feeling the show has going for it. Backgrounds are very well detailed and show off the futuristic skylines very well. I really liked the style of the character designs here. They are very flashy, futuristic, and yet still look like real human beings. The 4 main characters each look VERY distinct. You would never confuse these guys for any other anime characters out there, and instantly know what show they are from when you see them. All the minor characters are well done too, and a lot of thought went into each and every one. The characters are never cluttered, but still drawn in great detail. Some of the female characters do look a bit boring when compared to your regular hot anime chick, but they do have realistic bodies and faces, so you really can’t complain. The the animation is fluid, never choppy, and always moving. As I said high quality production here. The fight scenes really show off what Madhouse can do, and they look amazing.
As for the music, this has a very futuristic-rock type of music thing going on. And I really liked the distinct style of music used. From the hard rock opener, to the more techno inspired background themes everything seems to work quite well. While not something you’ll really want to listen to outside of the show, it is some really good music. Each theme helps to complement each scene and I liked how different the music in this sounded then in most anime. While not a favorite soundtrack of mine or anything, it’s still very good. I should probably also mention that for the UK release Manga UK produced their own original soundtrack. While I have not watched the show with this soundtrack on (sadly it’s not included in the CPM DVDs, they only have the original soundtrack), I have heard clips of it. And it is also a great soundtrack. I really liked the different tone they gave the music as well, although I do think that the original Japanese soundtrack is a little better. Still this has a very nice 80’s pop/techno style that’s fitting for this type of show, although it does kind of age the show more than the original soundtrack. As far as the dub goes, well it’s incredbly good. This was dubbed in the mid 90’s so for that time period, to get this good of a dub is really something else. It blows my mind that this dub came out so long ago, because it could hold up well against dubs coming out today. Sure it’s not perfect, there are some problems of course. But the style and way in which it was done feels very much like a post 2000 dub. Ok so it may not be the best dub you ever heard, but for this time period I dare you to find something better. This was really an all around good dub.Michael Bakewell directed this for Manga UK, so it’s really no surprise when you think about it. He also directed the dubs on A Wind Named Amnesia ( a past review), and Dominion Tank Police which were both also quite good. The dub for this is filled with so much profanity that it makes the dub on Black Lagoon seem tame. The F-word is used in between as many words as possible, and somehow this all works. I mean they are all criminals after all. I don’t want to listen to them talk like preschoolers or priests. And all the other curse words you love are there, and probably a few you’ve never even heard of. And this just works perfectly. It’s very similar to the dub on Gantz, for example and I must say it does help give this show the edge it needs. I don’t know if I’d enjoy this show this much if not for the epic dub. The amount of cursing, and the funny way they all curse really helps make this dub a winner in my eyes.
Bruce Martin plays Sengoku, who curses the most out of the three. And many times it’s laugh out loud funny the things he says. This is intentional humor, and you gatta love it. Bruce Martin has some great one liners. The way he says certain lines like, “Now then young man, it’s far to late for a little man like you to be out on his own. It’s way past your bead time Mother F*cker!” always manage to crack me up. Ok so maybe I have the sense of humor of a 13-year-old, but really this never gets old for me. Also keep your ears open for his answer to why he can’t take some girl out for dinner at the end of the first episode. That’s the funniest line in the entire show. And Martin pulls this off perfectly. Bruce Martin has just enough gruff in his voice to make his character sound right, and just enough youthfulness that comes out that really gives his character some flavor. He always knows what feeling to put behind his lines, and doesn’t have a bad line in the entire series. He’s at top of his game. Sean Barrett, who I’ll always remember as Lieutenant Britain from Dominion Tank Police, plays Gogul and he is also quite good. Sure one or two lines are a little awkward, but really he’s almost always great. He plays these older, bigger, and more in charge type characters well in my opinion, so he fits right in here. He has a little older sounding voice, that’s very gruffy (like he’s been smoking and drinking too much), and it really fits the character. His acting is very good most of the time as well. Daniel Flynn plays Benten, and really does a perfect job at this. Benten is just a little eccentric, very sarcastic, and always thinking about something deeply. Flynn could have easily not thought much about this however, and just given the guy a crazy, weird voice. But no, he’s very genuine here and sounds like a real person you’d meet on the street. He’s very good with the dry wit and sarcasm, and has a freshness in his voice that you can’t miss. He’s a very good actor and also never gives a bad line. Hasegawa is played by Bob Sherman, and he is perhaps the weakest part of this dub. A few of his lines from time to time sound awkward, and some things he says do not have the right feeling behind them at times. But again let me point out he’s not terrible, he’s not bad, he’s not even mediocre. He’s very good. It’s just he’s not always perfect. As I said, the dub was excellent, and nothing he does is really bad or anything like that. He’s just not perfect all the time. I did like his firm voice, and some of his lines came off with a bit of style that really fit his character. Anyway, the dub is a very high quality 90’s dub, that I think many would enjoy. Just note, there’s more curses in this than most anime out there, so if you have a problem with that beware. However it’s a mature show so it’s very fitting. A few people may actually dislike the dub because of all the added cursing not in the original script. It is a little liberal, but I thought it made perfect sense and fit the series. I wouldn’t want these characters to speak politely and cursing really helps to bring out the fact that yes, these are criminals and they just don’t give a damn. Sure perhaps they go overboard with it a little, but they seemed to have had a lot of fun here with the dub. And I liked it a lot. Again, having the sense of humor of a 13-year-old might help you enjoy this one more. (For a sample clip of the dub, click here. I think this is legal, as it’s only a sample clip. Please do buy the DVDs if you like what you hear though.)
To tie this all up let me say I really enjoyed Cyber City. My only real beef with it is the last two episodes were not as strong as the first. Action series are very hit or miss with me, and this was a big hit. The characters are very interesting, the action scenes are well done, and it’s got great animation. Music was great, and the dub was amazing for its time. However it does feel kinda shallow, even though it deals heavily with its characters. And although it’s a very fun show, I’m not sure I can give it the full 5 stars just because of that. Still its a solid action/sci-fi series that shouldn’t be forgotten. So don’t think that 4.5 stars means it has some big problems, because it really doesn’t. This is a favorite action series of mine, although I admit it isn’t perfect. Oh and don’t let CPM’s ugly DVD cases scare you away from this one. Sadly there were not many pictures available for such an old show, so they had to use what they had on hand, and it doesn’t look good at all. The covers to their box set and DVDs are not CPM’s best work. They make the show look cheesy, corny and kinda lame. Which it’s not really any of those. Their worst offense is the last DVD in the set which really screams “Cheesy vampires of the future and girly cops too!”. Ugh…But I do forgive them, because they put a lot of work into this show. And really who else would have touched a show like this? There’s only one real extra, but it’s very good. It’s the director’s commentary by Kawajiri himself, and it’s very interesting. It’s nice to learn that Cyber City was originally going to be a single OVA, but it’s instant popularity in Japan made sure they had to make 2 more episodes. Anyway give this old school show a shot, you may find you like it as well!