Abandoned #6 (Ga-Rei: Zero, Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045 & El Cazador de la Bruja)

Welcome to my 6th ‘Abandoned’ post and of course, my usual disclaimer that I might come back to these one day!

  1. Ga-Rei: Zero (2008)

During my slump the other month (when I was having a lot of trouble finishing things) I started and abandoned various anime and Ga-Rei: Zero was one of them.

I’ve seen (or attempted) a fair few shows in the supernatural genre of late and this one had a few interesting things that I hadn’t seen heaps of times before, and visually I certainly had no complaints… but it made a classic storytelling ‘error’ as I see it.

I understand that the style of error I’m eventually going to mention is usually played as a twist but it had a secondary effect for me, which was to make me stop watching.

Basically, between episode 1 and episode 2, Ga-Rei: Zero changes the cast of characters completely. Suddenly, I had to meet a whole heap of new folks and do the work of finding reasons to care about them – and instead, I just didn’t and ended up moving on to a different show.

Maybe if I wasn’t in a slump I might have kept going… but I didn’t have the energy to watch (basically) two versions of Episode 1 back to back.

2. Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045 (2020)

Gave this a shot the other day but I couldn’t get on board with the visual style. Cool to hear original cast members back for the voices however 🙂

Ultimately, I didn’t see enough to have much of a response re: storyline or anything else about this series, and I could probably come back to this one day, just to see more and give myself a chance to form a real opinion. For now, it’s pushed down a bit on my list.

3. El Cazador de la Bruja (2009)

The ‘girls with guns’ sub-category is one of my favourites and the setting was great so I think I’ll give this a shot again one day for sure, but since I tried El Cazador during my slump, I wasn’t able to finish the first episode.

It felt like it was taking a bit too long to kick off and in a way, that’s probably not true, but again, mid-slump I was only able to finish things that immediately and deeply hooked me from the opening few minutes.

Eat-Man / Eat-Man ’98

How’s this for a fun premise? Strong-silent-type mercenary who can recreate anything he eats wanders around a cyberpunk/dystopian/fantastic world taking on all kinds of jobs!

Well, both adaptations of Eat-Man are indeed that – but I’ve been having trouble deciding precisely how I responded to them. They were only made a year apart and both completed by Studio Deen, so there are plenty of similarities in terms of art style and other production aspects.

The biggest differences are story, character and tone.

In some ways, Eat-Man is less satisfying than Eat-Man ’98 due to those differences… or at least, so I thought at first.

Usually, I try to complete an entire post for each anime when I do these comparison-style write-ups, but I’ll combine these two series into one post today, I think because it’s going to be a fair bit shorter than usual.

Here’s a comparative overview:

Eat-Man

  • Our hero ‘Bolt’ is generally very quiet and seems unhappy
  • Narrative is episodic with Bond ‘girl of the week’ feel
  • A whole heap of unexplained stuff
  • Art style has a little more detail in some aspects
  • Quite a moody, even mystical tone

Eat-Man ‘98

  • Our hero ‘Bolt’ is extremely taciturn and seems cold
  • Narrative has no overarching storyline but more connected episodes
  • Less unexplained stuff
  • Art style more polished overall, maybe more variety in direction
  • More of an action/adventure tone

Eat-Man (1997)

In this version of the adaptation, Bolt seems to wander in an attempt to find meaning, and his characterisation seems a little more enjoyable to me overall. The anime steps away from the manga but remains similarly episodic, yet throughout it sneaks in foreshadowing: there’s a floating wreckage of what appears to be a space ship.

In many episodes it’s just hanging there in the background and other times it’s framed with Bolt appearing to look at it – it’s a nice narrative hook that maybe didn’t pay off for me, considering that it’s rushed into focus at the end.

But probably the most fascinating things to me were the fantasy elements that were almost… occult-like, and added a whole lot of mystery but also deep confusion, even if it did at times make for some striking imagery.

In this first series too, there’s a minor difference – which is the colour of Bolt’s glasses, here they put me in the mind of Vash more than they did in the second series. (And to quickly play chronology, the Eat-Man anime predates the Trigun anime by a year, and the Trigun manga pre-dates the Eat-Man manga by a year.)

One clear mark against this version for me were the filler-moments, or the stretching out of certain scenes beyond what was needed, something that I didn’t notice anywhere near as much in the 1998 show.


Eat-Man ’98 (1998)

Here, the mystical elements are stripped away a fair bit, and a little more cyberpunk pushes through. More of the episodes present little arcs or multi-part storylines here, in stark contrast to the 1997 season. This mostly removes the ‘girl of the week’ feel though the series is still ultimately episodic.

Bolt is a little colder, seemingly more unyielding – but the storylines like to play with the idea that he’s cold, yet there is usually a reason for his manner. It’s also in this re-do that we get a few more tantalising hints about who or what Bolt really is, though I imagine more seasons would always have been needed to get any more answers.

One welcome change here is that there are actually a few characters that return, or have an impact on Bolt and so it feels like there is a bit more at stake. I probably slightly prefer the direction in this version of Eat-Man, something that jumped out to me during the highlight of the Bye Bye Aimie episodes.

And now to quickly sum up!

In the end, I think that the 1998 Eat-Man is essentially a better adaptation (not precisely because it’s more faithful to the source either) and I preferred its OST, but despite the faults of the 1997 iteration, somehow I enjoyed it a little more. It’s less conventional within an already unconventional setting/premise and I preferred the art-style.

Eat-Man 97, 3 Stars

East-Man 98, 3 Stars

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

Psycho-Pass (Saiko Pasu)

Psycho-Pass (Saiko Pasu) 2012

I thought I’d try to avoid a long, rambling preamble for a change and instead take a shot at summing up my response to the show in a few words – disturbing, fascinating and mostly compelling.

While it actually took me months to finish Psycho-Pass (usually watching one or a few episodes at a time only) that’s not an indictment on my enjoyment of the series and I think it’s easily one of the best cyberpunk/futuristic dystopian shows around.

Obviously on several levels it’s a procedural/mystery/thriller with all the conventions that go with them but the setting really elevates Psycho-Pass beyond and it was probably the most engrossing aspect to me as a viewer. The characters ranged from utterly engaging to tedious and even criminally under-used I feel – but I want to stay with the setting a touch longer before I get back to the characters 🙂

To understand the Japan featured in the series, which falls into the ‘dystopia masquerading as utopia category’, I want to quote from the wiki entry:

Psycho-Pass is set in a futuristic era in Japan where the Sibyl System (シビュラシステム Shibyura Shisutemu), a powerful network of psychometric scanners, actively measures the minds and mentalities of civilised populations using a “cymatic scan” of the brain. When the calculated likelihood of an individual committing a crime exceeds an accepted threshold, he or she is pursued, apprehended, and killed if necessary by police forces.

A consequence of this system that I didn’t quote above is that while people generally tend to lead safe and calm lives, it is at the cost of much autonomy in terms of deciding the path of those lives. The tension there tends to be the cause of most crimes the characters must solve in the series, and it’s probably the main theme for both the heroes and the villain – so, classic stuff, which I was really happy about.

Psycho-Pass also definitely kept me guessing at times and while it is equal parts thrilling and interesting, I’d like to warn folks that some episodes can be seriously disturbing. And it’s not just the violence, but the way society reacts to violence – and without spoilers, I’ll just say that part of what makes it chilling is the seemingly very real possibility of a similar society rising in the future.

Now, finally to the characters – for me, a few pawns used by the key antagonist were a bit dull but leads Akane Tsunemori and Shinya Kogami more than made up for it, with the tension between idealistic and cynical playing out in an interesting way by the end. The supporting cast were great too, but now I want to circle back to my ‘mostly-compelling’ comment and pair it with my ‘criminally under-used’ comment.

Yayoi Kunizuka.

For whatever reason, she was hardly used despite being one of the more interesting supporting members of the team – and yet, the series took time to devote an entire flashback episode to her punk rock past… but then just never came back to it. Even by the end of the first season there’s no sense that she’ll be given a chance to get the closure other characters were afforded. It thus became a kind of odd detour that interrupted the pacing and dissolved perhaps too much of the building tension.

Of course, there’s two more seasons of the show but here’s where I finally get around to ‘mostly-compelling’. I kinda have no desire to keep watching – which sounds odd, because I enjoyed Psycho-Pass. BUT enough of the main plot threads were resolved so that for me, there’s not enough to keep going. Well, that and the fact I want more from another certain other character not featured in the next seasons!

Still, season one had a really satisfying finish on many levels – but I want to quickly mention how much I appreciated the colour and light in the wheat fields; it really stood out compared to the night and neon that dominates the rest of Psycho-Pass, so I thought that was a great contrast.

Brilliant science fiction but probably not for everyone, I reckon.

5 Stars

As a tiny postscript, at times I felt like a few action sequences were a little less fluid than I was expecting and I’m not sure if that was due to the temporary studio switch or a desire for more realism in combat.

Appleseed (Appurushīdo) (1988)

Appleseed (Appurushīdo) (1988)

Some classics hold their status by virtue of reaching certain storytelling spaces early, by being perhaps more influential rather than brilliant in their own right. I’d argue that the 1988 OVA adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga fits that mold pretty neatly, since so many tropes, settings and ideas have carried forth well into the present, yet the film itself has its limitations.

Of course, the Appleseed manga is probably more key in terms of the influence I’m talking about (and obviously Akira before it) but the OVA is still part of the storytelling tradition that puts certain conventions and characters into the fore.

And while there’s certainly cyberpunk elements re: technology, rebellion in oppressive societies and augmentation, the film reads more like a Hollywood action blockbuster if you strip away those typical cyberpunk or science-fiction elements. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, that’s part of the fun for me when I watch it – it’s not unlike Lethal Weapon set in the 22nd Century!

So for me, what can I say represents Appleseed’s best parts?

Maybe the ‘time-capsule’ aspects – that ‘old-school’ anime character design which was usually a little rounder of face, with visible noses and sharper use of shadow, along with what I consider the wider, more generalised US influence – the big hair, 1980s workout-costuming, a montage sequence and a saxophone and light synth-soundtrack. Add to that robotics, guns and explosions and a clear, linear ‘police-hunt-terrorists’ storyline and you’ve got Appleseed. Even Briareos and Deunan have a bit of a buddy-cop dynamic going on – though any such character interactions/development (or exploration of the social system in Olympus) tend to take a back seat to the action and tech. (There’s bits of humour here and there too but again, it’s not the focus either).

In fact, another joy for me tends to be seeing how the future is imagined both in terms of how society is organised and how technology might evolve – and Appleseed has both fascinating ideas and amusing moments common to a lot of 80s and 90s cyberpunk: especially when it comes to the office settings or communication technology. Here, computers are massive, police still print on paper and phones have only reached ‘video’ and yet military tech and cybernetics are light years ahead. Audiences probably appreciate a good deal of familiar things in future-settings though, and predicting the future must be so, so very difficult. I tend to think speculative fiction writers do get it right pretty often too.

Where the OVA suffers in my opinion is due to some truly clunky dialogue and the missed opportunities to reveal more detail about the world and characters, something a series might have solved, but the movie still packs a lot into its runtime and I tend to prefer it over say, the 2004 adaptation, though nostalgia clearly plays into that feeling.

If you’re curious about the film’s place in the timeline of cyberpunk or maybe Shirow’s work in general, then you’ll probably pick up a few familiar themes and ideas – I remember feeling like the multi-leg tank was a clear precursor to GITS’s spider tank. And speaking of that robot design and influence, I think some Boomer designs from Bubblegum Crisis might be a nod to Landmates and other robots in Appleseed, which is the kind of detail I tend to enjoy noticing because it reminds me just how interconnected storytelling tends to be.

4 Stars

Appleseed (Appurushīdo)

Appleseed Appurushīdo (2004)

Okay, so it’s going to sound like I’ve got an axe to grind when it comes to early CGI… and maybe I do, I guess?

I do remember being thrilled with the visuals when Appleseed (2004) was brand new but the work of such early innovators are sometimes sorta ‘punished’ when the industry develops and we look back, which is a bit of a shame because it’s still put together well enough – the opening sequence is a nice example of this I reckon.

However, when I look back on this particular version of Shirow’s magna I still find myself preferring the 1988 OVA, though here the viewer still gets great fight sequences and a fair amount of time devoted to the problem of the bioroids. There’s also some conspiracy elements and backstory surprises in there along with the other classic cyberpunk tropes, but the big finish with the tank attack allows the filmmakers a chance to evoke some powerful Godzilla-like moments and really amp up the sense of doom.

To get an idea of what I mean by its ‘dated’ look (if you’ve never seen this film) the whole thing used to be on youtube, so you can see the early/cel-shaded (and still pretty smooth overall) CGI animation in action if you like.

3 Stars

Armitage III (Amitēji Za Sādo)

The late 1980s up to the mid 1990s represented a real peak of cyberpunk in anime, with the obvious giant that is Ghost in the Shell joined by Bubblegum Crisis, Appleseed and Battle Angel etc but one OVA that can go overlooked seems to be Armitage III.

Armitage III (Amitēji Za Sādo)
1995

I think I can see why that might be so – Armitage just doesn’t seem as consistent overall, though the original four episodes are still pretty good; there’s mystery and tension, some nice reveals and great designs/scene setting with just enough character development for my taste.

However, it’s still worth seeing if you’re a fan of the genre.

The classic ethical questions around Personhood are all there and in this series there’s some (not a heap) of political turmoil as a backdrop too, it’s a nice extra element to what is essentially a murder mystery at its heart. The fight scenes are satisfying and the villain is pretty good too and Naomi herself is a great heroine though for me, her punk attitude comes across a touch forced(?) at times, I think she works better as a ‘conflicted’ rather than ‘cocky’ hero. Maybe it was some of the dialogue?

The OVA was edited down to one film and given a new English dub with some Hollywood folks (Kiefer Sutherland, Juliette Lewis) so I feel like the team behind the international release put some real effort into the series but Armitage III still seems to have more of a ‘cult classic’ status, rather than being as widely known as GITS.

As an aside, I did occasionally find her visual design to vary a little too much across promotional images/dvd art/episode/films, so much so that at times Armitage almost appears as two different characters (well, maybe not that different).

(Nearly ten years later a sequel film was made (Dual Matrix) – you can see a jump in animation quality and the introduction of some CGI (mostly vehicles) and while I thought the story started a little slow (and Armitage behaves out of character at one important point) it was pretty good too, some of the fight sequences especially were great).

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Inosensu)

Following up a landmark film like Ghost in the Shell (1995) surely would have been daunting – and maybe exciting too – even for an ace team who’d worked on the first film, but if you’re thinking of watching this one, I reckon you’ll quickly see where Innocence takes a lot of steps to both differentiate itself from its predecessor while at the same time feature enough links to the past to satisfy most viewers.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (Inosensu) 2004

The first thing I noticed was the colour palette – while GITS used lots of blues, greens and white throughout, Innocence relies on browns, orange and yellow quite often. The other obvious thing fans of the original will notice is that CGI is fairly heavily integrated to the 2D animation here. For me, this is a bit of a deterrent actually, as I feel too much early-2000s CGI just doesn’t gel as smoothly, at times looking a bit like game graphics rather than feature film visuals.

Of course, that’s a little unkind – it’s still arresting imagery and often the use of shadow or light (like on the cars! or during the parade) is fantastic, but without a gripping storyline I found myself more inclined to focus on the visuals and notice that they didn’t seem to always feel ‘right’.

Still, it was fun to see characters from the first film – like Togusa (Kōichi Yamadera – who you may know as Spike from Cowboy Bebop) and of course, main character Batou (Akio Ōtsuka, who I recognised as Captain Nemo from Nadia). And where the story falls down a little for being a somewhat like collection of impressive scenes rather than a driven cyberpunk/thriller narrative, there’s something compelling about Batou’s morose determination – though I wished we’d seen a little more of him post the climactic scenes.

If you’ve never seen this consider it; because while I don’t think it’s a classic, there really must have been a lot of love and labour put into this ‘stand alone sequel’ (as Mamoru Oshii intended), because you’ll notice Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki in the credits – I believe he was contacted to help finance the film’s giant budget 🙂

3 Stars

Battle Angel (Ganmu)

Until the start of this year I’d never seen Ganmu – which I realised was odd, since I do consider myself a cyberpunk fan. At the time, the then upcoming live-action remake (Alita) prompted me to finally see Battle Angel and while I still haven’t seen the CGI-version, I did at last watch the OVA.

Battle Angel (Ganmu) 1993

And while I think it’s far too short, it remains equal parts powerful and frustrating and I still really enjoyed it – everyone is probably well-aware by now that Kishiro never planned to have more than two episodes made and so there’s nothing remotely like a resolution to the main conflict, it’s more like an (effective?) funnel to the manga.

Instead, I’d say Battle Angel is worth seeing due to its place in the history of cyberpunk anime, for the distinctive art style, grim vision of the future and great charactarisation (save for Hugo – a touch more on that later*).

There’s a bit of gore here and there to add to the general darkness of it all but it suits the tone of the episodes, which are both around 30 mins compared to a ‘regular’ series at 23ish, so there is a touch more time to reveal a bit of character development and establish atmosphere.

The fight scenes are pretty ace – at times I got an Astro Boy vibe (which makes sense of course) but I don’t consider that a bad thing at all and again, I do think this is worth seeing at least once.

4 Stars

*This is hard to judge for me – because I suspect the manga explores Hugo’s motivations deeper, but in the anime he represents a causality of ‘compressed storylines’ where important things must of a necessity be left out, and I didn’t think his motivation was sold (to me, at least) well enough to justify his flaw.