8 Man After
Time for another title from the "dusty tapes that the local video store doesn't even realise it owns". This tape in particular has been there for years, and I've considered borrowing it many times, so best to go ahead and do so before it gets thrown in the trash.
A thin executive looks out over the city from the penthouse of his powerful corporations headquarters. Behind him is a scale model of the perfect city, which looks a lot like a toy, and beside it a miscellaneous but attractive woman from the marketing division. Move to poetry he speaks his mind frankly...
"I love this city, so much that I want to become Mayor and own it. Then I'll be able to kick out all the bums, punks, druggies and poor people and turn it into a corporate happy-land. And my first step to this dream will be releasing military grade cybernetics, constructed by my own mad scientist, onto the market despite the fact they addict the user to a powerful drug that turns them into a crazed homocidal psychopath. And needless to say I'll use these goons, despite their lack of any discipline or inability to cause a massacre in the local area, on anyone who stands in my way. What do you think of that plan?"
Speaking carefully she answers, "You would have my vote sir!" but in her mind she wonders about the wisdom of this plan. If only the legendary hero, and her ex-boyfriend, 8-man would return to protect them from the terrible dangers the city now faces. But 8-man vanished from both her life and the city years ago, leaving only the hopelessly outmatched police to protect it. Who will save them now?
Wow, major echoes of Robocop in there. Which immediately leads us onto one of the primary problems with this title, namely the script. Once upon a time cyborg angst (re. "am I human"), the city collapsing into decay and crime with a solo hero stemming the tide might have been revolutionary. But that time was long ago and these days this plot, which is really rather simplistic, looks very tired and extremely familiar. You've almost certainly seen multiple titles that have a lot in common with it, which is one of the reasons I didn't mind spoiling it a little in the synopsis.
Mind you it starts out rather promisingly. The female marketing executive has a tragic past, spelt out in the opening of each episode, where her ex-boyfriend either revealed he was the cybernetic hero known as 8-man, or perhaps discovered he wasn't human, either way he ran for it and hasn't been seen since. While at the company she bumps into a complex character, a tough and straight talking private eye, who's looking for a missing person. She's attracted to him, he's attracted to her (and wants to pump her for info) and the bad guys want to stop either of them from learning what they're upto.
This detective bit is sort of cool. Both of the characters are interesting and there's some nice dialog to follow. Having a nice slow development as they discover the truth that underlies the city could be rather cool. But, whether due to poor writing or restricted time, it's not long before all of a sudden there's cyborg criminals packing futuristic firearms and any sense of subtlety goes out the window. When the super-cyborg warrior 8-man comes onto the scene it's time for some payback.
8-man himself is interesting. The first negative is he looks like a guy in a silly suit, it's no surprise there was a live action version of this. The second is that he's not allowed to recharge like in the original series which was by smoking nuclear cigarettes because of course smoking radium enriched cigarettes is bad for your cybernetic health. He also has a psychological hook, he's meant to maintain perfect calm while being 8-man, but the new person who's become 8-man has some hidden angst within him. Although the short duration and increasing action, not to mention his silence as 8-man, limit this aspect.
8-mans super-power is absolutely brilliant. He's strong and armored, as would be expected of a cyborg, but his main power is super speed. And I mean really super speedy, able to do things like pick bullets out of the air. It's a cool power, but what's really clever is how it lets them cheat outrageously on animation. He moves and attacks so fast you can't even see him. And if you can't see him they don't have to animate it! Is that a brilliant innovation or what? Most of what you do see is repeated stock footage.
However, even while I bag it, it's not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. The plots overly familiar and simplistic but it sort of works. Some of the characters are cool and there's some quite strong dialog hidden away in there. There's even a couple of moments when it manages some intensity and mystery. While it's no classic it's not terribly hard to watch and I would quite like to see the conclusion, although that could be unlikely given the video library only has the one tape.
But another library, with a rather spectacular collection of aging anime, comes to the rescue. I sort of wished they hadn't though, because the quality and character go downhill in the last two episodes. It's pretty obvious they ran out of steam, time and direction. Episode 3 is some cyborg angst which is overplayed, followed by a strangely un-exciting boss fight to end it. The fairly dodgy technical design throughout becomes downright painful by about this point too, especially on the main villain. The `drug' angle is overplayed as well, and it was never a particularly logical story thread.
The production is relatively dated. From that time when the linework was relatively complex and the shadows solid so that actually getting much motion onto the screen was hard. It's competently done though. The tech design is marginal, and the action restricted, but it works well enough that you can enjoy, but not be amazed, by it. It actually uses some quite decent camerawork and movement too, there's some skill behind this. The music and sound seemed pretty low key, introduction is actually spoken, voices are quite good for a dub of this period.
The title is somewhat trapped between audiences. It has enough gore and violence, explicitly represented, that it's not suitable for young kids. Even though they're the ones who would probably most like 8-mans super-powers. While 8-man no longer smokes drug use is a part of the plot. Meanwhile older audiences are more likely to find the plot childish, it's an unfortunate divide.