Cybernetics Guardian

The only thing I knew going into Cybernetics Guardian was that it was “terribad”. This is allegedly one of those old 1980’s OVAs filled with action, gore, and little else. Muddled story, poorly written characters, dumb things happening really fast? It’s supposed to have all that and nothing else. Since it was directed by Koichi Ohata, creator and director of M.D. Geist ,the so called “2nd worst anime ever made”, it is widely said that this OVA is nearly as bad. I mean that’s not an unreasonable thought. Surely the guy behind the dreck that is M.D. Geist would make other bad anime. So my expectations going into this one were as low as possible. This might explain my point of view, at least somewhat. And so with that out of the way, I was pleasantly surprised. I found this to be an engaging, entertaining, beautiful little anime.

This ova came packaged in the “Mecha Master’s” boxset Central Park Media (U.S. Manga Corps) released all those years ago. That is the only reason I own this really. I bought that set for Genocyber (which I reviewed), which I was assured was a good anime. Having this anime come with it was just a nice bonus. You can still buy this on DVD, although it’s getting harder to find lately. The Mecha Master’s boxset is even more difficult to find, unless you want to spend 50 bucks for a used copy on ebay. I had no expectations for this anime, often hearing it’s just god awful trash. But I left feeling entertained. Hey, you can’t ask for more. In the late 80’s Japan was living it up, the baburu keiki (bubble economy) had not yet burst, and animation studios were setting pallets of yen on fire daily like the Joker. This is one of those bonfires. They often gave inexperienced and radical young animators a chance to delve in and create their own worlds and stories for the booming home video market. AIC apparently gave Koichi Ohata a crack at directing with no supervision this time, and what we got was Cybernetics Guardian. While in M.D. Geist he was helped (poorly) by Hayato Ikeda, this would be his first chance to go at it alone. I think he learned from his mistakes last time, and we are gifted with a hell of a treat.

In the distant future of 2019 (also known as two years ago, lol), crime is out of control in the inner city (referred to as “cancer” in the anime). At the same time progress has advanced significantly in some new form of energy, which seems capable of piloting mechs, personal flying machines , and other futuristic vehicles. Our main character is a man named John Stalker, who is working for a soulless corporation that is trying to find a way to deal with the out of control violence and crime. This character is very reminiscent of Bob Morton in the film Robocop. And just like in Robocop our main character has an evil rival who will stop at nothing to sabotage our protagonists, so the company will pick his design instead. The rival in this anime is named Adler, and he plays the Dick Jones like character, although sadly he’s not as badass. Everything goes wrong while John is conducting an experiment to perfect the finished product, a cyber-suit that could be used to fight crime, designed by his girlfriend who also works at the company. John loses control of the suit, and sort of melds into it. We are led to believe this is some sort of sabotage by Adler. At the same time a religious cult decked out in (what I can only describe as) Ku Klux Klan inspired outfits kidnap him! They put a spell on him and turn him into a killing machine.

John’s original idea was to try and use some non-deadly way to bring peace and prosperity to “cancer”. Of course it’s never really made clear how this cyber suit will do that, but if you’re seriously asking questions like that 10 minutes into an old ultraviolent OVA from the 80’s I have only one thing to say to you. You see he has a soft spot for the inner city, as he was originally from there. He doesn’t want them to just march in there and bash skulls, he was for any other means of ending the crime and violence in the inner city. He still considers himself one of those people, and can relate to what is going on there. Many of the other characters in this anime just want to rid themselves of the crime, and view the poor as nothing but animals to be slaughtered if need be. Adler is one of those people. He views John’s plan as a “bleeding heart” fantasy, and would probably like nothing more than to carpet bomb the entire inner city. Since that’s not a possibility though he wants his very violent project to be green-lit and used instead. Adler is not only obnoxiously confident in his project will work better than John’s, he also has more than a crush on John’s sexy blond bombshell girlfriend, Leyla. Hey who can blame him?

Some aspects of this anime are a little unclear. For example we are just left wondering if it was Adler’s plan that worked, or if it was the cult’s? Or perhaps Adler is working with the cult secretly? Although at times he seems surprised as their moves. This stuff is all very muddled. I suppose there just wasn’t enough time to explain everything, but it leaves us all a little confused at who specifically managed to pull what off. I kept thinking we’d get clarification at the end, but there was nothing there but a tease for a sequel. I’ve heard other critics fret about the entire character of Adler, saying this entire story could be told without him. And perhaps that’s true, but there’s something engrossing about “Dick Jones” like characters, especially this one who wants to steal our main characters girlfriend as well. Sure the animators just probably really liked Robocop when they made this, but hey I really like Robocop too. If I was making an anime I’d want to copy that movie as much as possible without being sued as well. I just wish there was a “bitches leave” scene in here somewhere. That would have ruled.

It turns out, many years ago, the cult leader “spread seeds” in cancer, which turned the inner city into a violent slum with their citizens becoming criminals. This was done in the hope that one day, one of them would grow up to be their savior. I suppose the seeds could make someone violent, or could make them a god-like being depending on the person infected. The person who became a god ended up being John of course. I don’t know if this makes complete sense but hey I rather enjoyed the random exposition here. I like how the anime manages to tie that all together, and explain a lot considering it’s short running time here. The violence of cancer, the reason the cult kidnapped John, the new form of energy humanity discovered, and the reason for the cult’s existence is all explained. Yes there’s plenty here that never gets told, but I like how this aspect all gets tied together in a neat bow. The anime then follows Leyla trying to re-awaken John’s humanity. And that journey is an interesting one at that. It’s a painful, difficult, and risky job.

Ultimately this anime was a fun, exciting, and fully engaging romp. Seriously if there’s one thing about this that matters, it’s that it knows how to fully grab your attention. I found myself not tweeting once throughout this show, and that’s saying something these days. Let’s be clear, this isn’t high brow entertainment; the Masterpiece Theater folks will not be singing the praise of Cybernetics Guardian any time soon. What I found truly charming about the whole thing was it’s unashamed badassery. This is an anime not afraid of chopping off some heads. It’s not afraid of just being cool, of doing things considered awesome.

It’s also very indicative of the old 80’s OVAs where it has a short story to tell, it gets in, chops off a couple heads, and gets out in under an hour. So there’s not much time for backstory, explanations, or detailed world building, but plenty of the old ultraviolence. It’s a solid anime, that tells a story and then gets the hell out. There’s no time for 6 episodes of 22 minute world building here. No, this would rather drop you off into some futuristic world, rush the story along, maybe have a deus ex machina or two, not explain much, pump the action and violence up to eleven, and then end. You have to respect an anime that is willing to just tell it’s story and be done with it. I am tired of having to commit to 12 or 26 episodes to see an entire story. Sometimes it’s nice to just be able to wind down with a simple, quick paced story. One can easily see why this type of anime was easy to bring over to America in the early days; there’s not that much to worry about translating, there’s no backstory necessary and anyone can easily get into this (as long as they are OK with violence and blood). One issue I have with this is the awkward sounding title; I feel it should be Cybernetic Guardians, not Cybernetics Guardian. Is this Engrish?

The way this anime just unexpectedly kills off characters it barely introduced caught me off guard at first. But I really liked that. It’s shocking, it’s fast paced, and no one is really safe here. Did the anime not even finish explaining who a new character is? That’s ok their head can still get chopped off. Nothing is keeping them safe long enough for you to actually understand them. In that way it’s like the real world, if it were a violent life threatening place, meaning no one is ever safe and anything can happen to anyone. I like that this helps make the anime unpredictable.

The artwork in this, specifically the wonderfully designed characters, is a sight to behold. Some of this is dazzling for the time period. The character design of Leyla is truly gorgeous and somewhat unique. Now I know in the 80’s everyone wanted a blonde bombshell, and perhaps they were aping Susan Sommers of Venus Wars a little, but it really works. What makes Leyla unique is stunning curly blonde hair. I can’t think of many anime characters with curly blonde 80’s metal hair. She appears very American, distinctly un-Japanese in looks, and this makes her stand out. I particular enjoyed her multiple outfits. The anime emphasizes her (sometimes inexplicable) complete wardrobe changes, but this is a clearly effective decision, which only manages to add to the anime. There is a scene where she is wearing ancient greek inspired clothing, another when she’s donned in knock-off Susan Sommers (from Venus Wars) clothing, and even a scene with her wearing a cool unique futuristic outfit. I think her clothing choices, her hair style, and her character design as a whole is a major favorable aspect of this OVA. Atsushi Yamagata (character designs: on Colorful, Genocyber, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou) did the character designs on this, and I must say I am impressed here. This might be his best work. I know many critics have grumbled about the hair style of Adler, but honestly I thought that was frigen cool. He has a giant purple pompadour, but one that works. Yes it’s very 80’s, but it’s also totally tubular. I can get behind that kind of crazy hair style! He also likes to randomly wear his sunglasses, and I support that kind of fashion sense. The backgrounds are nice but nothing mesmerizing. The animation flows well for this OVA. Nothing mind-blowing for the era, but I had no complaints there either. Nothing choppy or poorly animated like say, M.D. Geist.

The best part of this anime is its killer rocking soundtrack! This is more music video than anime, and honestly it’s better for it. Much of the main battle scenes are set to late 80’s style J-rock, and every song is a hit. It’s amazing how good the insert songs for this anime are. If there’s one major reason to watch this, it’s for it’s astounding hard rock/heavy metal soundtrack. The songs in this anime were done by the Japanese rock band, Trash Gang. And it’s hard to find any reliable information on them, but other fans have compared them to Motley Crue, and Judas Priest and I say that’s apt. From what I can tell they only released one album, the one the songs for this anime were taken from, but some of the band members went on to join other bands and some are still active today. But sort of sad we never heard more from them as a band together. The set’s showstopper is  “Can’t Get It Enough”, which sounds like they listened to “Bark at the Moon” by Ozzy Osbourne one too many times, but damn it boy does that song blow you away. We need more music like this in anime. Sadly the dub on this is kind of bad. It’s not that it’s Kip Kaplan bad, but all the actors sound entirely bored and uninterested in what they’re doing. They can’t even phone it in well. It was dubbed by New York City based, National Video Industries, who never got to work on another anime dub. I guess even CPM disapproved of their work here. Sharon Becker is the only actor on this to really go on to star in other anime dubs. And she is dreadful here. I honestly was never all that impressed with her work as Anthy in Revolutionary Girl Utena, but shit man she was better there than here. She even did an admirable job (although she won’t be winning any awards there) as Lieutenant Darsa in Big Wars. One gets the impression the actors all thought this was garbage and didn’t care.

Is this anime stupid sometimes? Does it jump too quickly through plot points? Are character’s motivations sometimes unclear? Yes, yes, and damn it yes. But does it also successfully copy stuff from one of the best 80’s action films of all time, Robocop? You bet your ass it does. And seeing the god-like creature that John transformed into chop down an entire squad of future police is exciting to watch. There’s a lot of good stuff here, but few concepts are fully developed. There’s plenty of good plot points, interesting characters, great backstory, and cool robotics, but not enough time is spent on any of that. Characters are randomly tossed in with little explanation or development, and all of a sudden they’re working together. Which would be fair enough, if enough time was spent on the cool action scenes. And while yes there’s a lot of action, and ultraviolence in this, the entire anime is so short they really don’t spend enough time on that either.

That’s not to say this is a bad anime, far from. In fact it’s really quite good. It leaves you wanting more, or rather it left me wishing they stretched the story out a little longer than the 43 minutes running time. But hey that was anime back then. They dropped you in a cool sci-fi world, got right to the point, chopped off a few heads, had some cool fight scenes, and concluded the main plot (if you were lucky) all before you could finish your pocky. One can see why these types of anime were popular with the OG fansub crowd, as there isn’t that much to translate, there’s not a lot of time to invest, and hell even if you watch this raw you could kinda get the gist of it. Not to mention that killer soundtrack alone must have made kids whose only exposure to animation was Ducktales before this have a freaken aneurysm when they popped in this VHS tape. And it still holds up today, because it has so many good points. It’s just a shame none of them were that focused on. But on the bright side, you don’t need to watch a 26 episode series to be fully entertained. This is the type of anime where music plays such a big role, and action plays the other role, you can’t help but eat it up. I can see why John O’Donnell would love this stuff.

Prede’s Raiting

3/5 Stars

Positives: A good dose of the old ultraviolence. Great action. Copied Robocop. Incredible heavy metal soundtrack. They don’t make em like this anymore. Nice character designs.

Negatives: A little sloppy, too fast, and not enough explanation. Kind of stupid, character motivations a tad unclear at times, and a lot of unexplained plot points. The dub actors sound very bored.

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