8 Man After (1993)

8 Man After is a short OVA series that I’d recommend to cyberpunk fans or folks who collect 1990s anime – especially if you crave a bit of violence, as it has what might now be called an ‘old-school’ violent anime feel. However, it’s not R-rated or anything, and there is a bit of character development and time spent on the setting too.

What I’ve been wondering about is to what extent the 8 Man After series is a response to things that came before.

And to discuss that, I think I have to jump back to the 1960s and 8 Man. Based on the manga by Kazumasa Hirai, the original iteration could be grouped into that robot boom in anime, the one that included Cyborg 009 and Astro Boy for instance. Tonally, those two shows might differ somewhat from 8 Man but again, I suspect modern audiences would find the ‘60s version of 8 Man somewhat ‘tame’ in some ways.

However, getting back to the ‘reactionary question’ I wanted to share a part of the premise I copied from Wikipedia:

Murdered by criminals, Detective Yokoda’s body is retrieved by Professor Tani and taken to his laboratory. There, Tani performs an experiment that has failed seven times; Yokoda is the eighth subject to have his life force transferred into an android body.

Sound at all familiar?

A cop murdered by street trash and returned to life as a robotic avenger – sounds nothing like Robocop, right?

Well, maybe if I look at the changing levels of onscreen violence in media during the 1960s to the 1980s and then further in to the good old grungy 1990s, then I think I can see what 8 Man After was going for. And after the grit of Robocop, maybe the teams at Ashi Productions and J.C. Staff felt that audiences wouldn’t accept a comparatively ‘clean cut’ cyborg revenge story?

In 8 Man After our hero Hazama is sometimes a little callous, and you could argue he must be in order to survive a city steeped in grime and corruption but the basic detective and cyberpunk tropes play out much as you might expect if you’re a fan of the genre.

Now that I’ve spent all those words putting the OVA into a bit of context, I should get to a few of the things I enjoyed; definitely the designs and fast pace, along with 8 Man himself, who had non-conventional abilities in some ways, but one of the things I remember most is the way American Football features in the story. There are a few links back to the original 8 Man too but I won’t spoil them here of course.

I was also interested to hear just how different the US and Japanese audio tracks were – my Diskotek release has both and while the US one is uptempo, semi-industrial techno at times, the original soundtrack can be perhaps a little more moody. Both suit the story but I really enjoyed the ending credits of the Japanese OST. I can’t actually find it on Youtube to share, so you have to trust me that it’s more interesting, I guess!

Ultimately, I don’t feel like the series has a whole host of flaws or anything and so maybe my rating might seem as though I didn’t enjoy the anime but that’s not true either, I think that instead, I found it more fascinating than enjoyable overall.

3 Stars

Vampire Hunter D (D Banpaia Hantā Dī)

Looking back to another classic for this review – this time it’s Vampire Hunter D which is very much a ‘monster hunting other monsters’ film but while there are definite horror aspects present, the Western and post-apocalyptic/sci-fi elements are just as clear.

Vampire Hunter D (D Banpaia Hantā Dī) 1985

So many of the story beats do read like a Western actually; you’ve got ranchers under threat, blackmail, dodgy law-keepers and a hired gun who has drifted into town to save the day… nothing groundbreaking in and of itself, but when it’s set against a futuristic/retro backdrop with Vampires and mutants, I think I see why the film must have stood out when it was first released. (And it remains engaging to me both now and when I first saw it as a teenager, though what I enjoyed most on first viewing probably wasn’t so much the cross-genre stuff as the more predictable horror/action elements I suppose: fights! exploding monsters! mysterious heroes! Etc etc).

Anyway – getting back to the actual review, as with so many of my write-ups, I can’t really speak to the quality of the film as an adaptation but if you’re interested in the genre, and if you prefer your vampires to be arrogant nobles a la the classic European style (rather than ‘animals’ or ‘sparklers’ as per some more modern texts) then you might like Vampire Hunter D. Certainly give it a shot if you only have time for a film-length anime too, since it won’t take long to watch it with a running time of only 80 mins.

However, length of the movie aside, I think it’s worth a look not only for its place in anime history, but because I really liked the ‘hard-to-pin-down-a-precise-era’ look to the character design (and some great creatures too) along with a handful of twists that kept things engaging – not to mention the titular character D himself, who’s a stoic but dependable hero. Personally, I’d have loved to see more of his internal conflict but that’d fit better in a series than a single feature I guess.

Until reading up on Vampire Hunter D for this review I’d also never realised quite how much the US was involved, with Sony Records and CBS acting as partners to Ashi Productions, which is perhaps part of why D eventually had a theatrical run in the States a few years after original release (and well before the ‘modern’ anime boom in the west.)

The OST was another element that I really enjoyed – it’s somewhat minimalist and even quite pensive at times (for a horror OST). Fans of 1980s electronic music will doubtless dig it too, but there’s still the sense of a simulated orchestra at times so it’s not ’empty’ either.

No spoilers – but this guy is a real highlight too 😀

Writer of the novels Hideyuki Kikuchi is on record saying that the look of this film is “cheap” and I think that’s somewhat misleading but not always inaccurate either, as there are some animation techniques used throughout that are probably in there to cut some corners, including the use of a lot of close-ups, but the direction is still pretty ace overall, especially with that creepy opening sequence.

4 Stars

Iria: Zeiram the Animation (I.R.I.A. Zeiramu Ji Animēshon)

Iria: Zeiram the Animation (I.R.I.A. Zeiramu Ji Animēshon) 1994

This short OVA series serves as a prequel, kinda, to the sci-fi/comedy/action film Zeriam from 1991 which, based on my quick comparison via youtube (which was not at all comprehensive btw) has a kinda Power Rangers feel, though it’s not pitched at young folks either.

The OVA is probably closer to sci-fi and action (with some light horror aspects), and being free from the constraints of early 1990s special effects, has aged far better in my opinion. Now, for folks looking for heavy gore etc you won’t get that here, despite the seemingly immortal Zeiram having a penchant for human innards, but there’s a relentlessness to the thing that should at least have you concerned for the characters. (Having said that, fans of Alien might actually like this).

Iria is a good heroine too and the supporting cast are memorable, especially Fujikuro, and there’s enough twists and turns to the plot to keep you entertained if you’re a fan of the genre, but for me the biggest thing I enjoyed (aside from some excellent character design and great range of gadgets and weapons) was the setting.

Myce and the other planets are shown to be earth-like but perhaps a little more of a combination of new and old, of futuristic and nomadic, even. Sometimes I thought there was a faint south-east Asian feel to some of the settings and even vehicles but I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly why that is beyond the shapes and some of the tropical aspects?

Either way, it’s nice to see something different in what is a really, really well-explored sub-genre 🙂 So, if you’re looking for a science-fiction/action series that tends to be overlooked perhaps, then this is probably one worth giving a shot.

4 Stars

(A quick final note – the opening theme song (which I still like) always struck my as oddly out of step with the show, yet also completely and utterly on point for early 90s cyberpunk-ish OSTs)

And a second final note – I always thought Zeiram and Gime (from Battle Angel) could have been pals due to their shared love of wide-brimmed hats.