Cyber City Oedo 808
Yep, yet one more aging dust collector piece. I'd seen this title around but since the cover looked corny and I only ever saw one tape I didn't bother. But when I found episodes 2 and 3 at a dodgy video store and a guy at work (thanks Chris) owned 1 I couldn't resist the chance.
The story takes place in another rendition of the dark future that everyone in the 80's seemed to feel was inevitable. A place where technology and crowding has both de-humanised the world and given us the power to make our dreams and nightmares come true. The criminals have bent technology to their ends, have built monsters, and the law has become just as brutal in an attempt to retain control.
And one branch of the police, the cyber police, has a rather traditional strategy. Find the most skilled and ruthless incarcerated criminals, those with sentences so long they will never taste freedom again, and offer them a deal. Work as the dogs of the state, finish your mission in the time allotted, and you'll get some years knocked off your sentence. And as an added incentive you don't get explosively decapitated by the new necklace we've fitted.
Story wise the most scary thing is that these people are the good guys. There's a mohawk wearing, scarred, boxer with cybernetic eyes who looks like the computer guy but can more than hold his own in a fight. The eternally swearing Sengoku seems the best investigator, and rather lethal with his high velocity pistol. Meanwhile the rather theatrical Benten favors agile moves and cutting problems down to size with links of ultra-sharp mono-wire (a very cyberpunk weapon). Their visual style is rather dated now, a trifle too disco-punk, but they're an interesting enough crew.
Once you've got over the visual shock of these guys, which is required because they dominate the covers, there's an even bigger shock. This stuff isn't nearly as bad as I thought and is actually quite watchable. Each tape basically has a mission, which are reasonably interesting, and a primary character. But it's not strictly separated, so the remaining two take minor roles in the story. This means that not only does each story differ but the primary character determines the way in which the story is solved... at least to an extent. And the people behind each story are much scarier once all is revealed.
Of course I wasn't expecting much, so that put me in the right mood, and the individual stories aren't that long and quite well paced. It also has a nice visual style and some excellent technical design to keep the eye entertained. Someone really enjoyed doing the landscapes, technical design (including computers) and a lot of nice detail work. It really does give a feel for a city that is at once very high tech but also corrupted and rotten in the centre. It's actual rather impressive and one of the better depictions of the cyberpunk world I've seen.
Of course there's a downside. The first being it's a dub. This is normally a bad thing but in this case they've tried to make it more `edgy' by putting lots of swearing in it... sort of. See they want to be adult but they can't actually use any real swear words without going to a more restricted rating. Which ends up leading to some of the most convoluted and just plain odd censor evading swearing I've ever heard. It just sounds sort of stupid and really interrupts the flow of the story. In addition the mandatory "cheap synth" effect for robotic voice is used, even in the opening song, and is frankly awful.
I'm not sure if the dub also had an effect here, but the writing is more than a little simplistic. The dialog is without much energy, the villains are actually far more monstrous than they are technological, and the leads don't really end up looking all that skillful. For example you could basically identify the story as being zombie, ghost and vampire stories with a high-tech layer over the top and not be too far off the truth. The heroes meanwhile seem to rely on freakish reflex's (no, you can't dodge lasers damnit), ability to take massive wounds and sort of ignore them and just barging into enemy strongholds. Something showing more brains on their part would have fit the high tech environment much better I think. This also affects the final fights, which virtually all rely on some unlikely events for the leads to win.
It's basically a shame that more care in the writing could have produced something rather good here. And heaven knows not that many good things actually came out of the whole cyber-punk period. Even with the weaknesses mentioned this is still pretty watchable which, for an older title, earns a certain grudging respect. I wouldn't go out of my way for it, and I'd definitely try and avoid the dub (if such a thing is possible), but I've seen much worse things and really enjoyed some of the design work.
The production has also aged reasonably well. While the 80's style of the characters looks odd now at least it actually has style, and that doesn't date. The leads, and the other characters, give off a good sense of personality which perhaps makes the average dialog and weird insults stand out so much. The detailed design is also quite well animated, indicating there was decent money and skill behind this, but the fights are not particularly dynamic or well choreographed, which reduces their appeal. It does have some nice atmospheric visual effects and good use of shadow though. The dub voices for the leads are not bad, although excessive attention is paid to lip syncing, but the lesser characters are occasionally painful. The music sets the scene well enough, some of the ambient stuff is actually not bad.
A product of the cyber-punk style which seems so dated now. Three rather flamboyant cyber-criminals are dragooned into serving the forces of law, threatened with a rather messy severance should they fail. And it seems in this, very well depicted, world there are some people ever scarier than them. Some weak writing, and some dated elements, detracts from a surprisingly decent base leaving something still quite watchable.