The 80s and 90s produced some amazing anime classics. AKIRA, GHOST IN THE SHELL and PERFECT BLUE for example. I would argue that these deserve far more than being considered great anime but deserve to be on “Best Of” lists of any sort of film, live-action, anime or otherwise.
On top of being fantastic films, they were also hugely influential. Sometimes maybe too influential as this terrific DAZED article pointed out regarding Daron Aronofsky’s “homages” to PERFECT BLUE.
But this post isn’t about those classic films. This is about a sub-category of that same era. In some cases they are almost equally as beautiful. But above all, they are dark and twisted in ways that seem of its time. Ways that have since faded.
These films are so politically incorrect it’s astounding. The things that women and female cyborgs go through are just not OK. In some cases, this is counter-balanced by some amazingly independent, strong and super-bad ass female characters. So, it’s a weird mix, to be sure. However, it is certainly not to everyone’s taste or within everyone’s moral comfort zone.
The most well-known of these animes might be A.D. POLICE FILES 1990. It was a spinoff of the hugely popular, and far more normal, BUBBLEGUM CRISIS. But whereas BUBBLEGUM CRISIS is something you could watch with your parents in the room, A.D. POLICE FILES…not so much. Just take a look at these three story lines.
1) A sex robot goes on murderous rampage after having erotic, violent fantasies about killing.
2) A female business executive is told she will not be promoted to CEO because her menstrual cycles make her too unstable. She has parts of her human body replaced with cyborg parts to fix the problem and become more efficient. Then she goes nuts and kills a lot of people.
3) A decorated police officer is replaced with all cyborg parts except his brain and his tongue. He becomes addicted to powerful drugs which make him hallucinate and become violent. He goes on a killing spree and is hunted down. His final wish to be shot in the one part of him he still knows is human, his tongue.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it? It is. Visually, the flavor of it is markedly different from anything you would see made today. In its grim, pre-CGI, cyber-city hell kind of way, A.D. POLICE FILES is quite beautiful.
Sadly, those three stories are the ONLY three that ever got made. Due to legal disputes, the production was halted permanently after they were produced. There was a later spin-off of A.D. POLICE FILES called AD POLICE FILES: PROTECT AND SERVE. It’s not the same thing. Seek out the original three and call it a day.
GOKU MIDNIGHT EYE was a limited run series by design. Just two episodes came out in 1989. It is not as good as A.D. POLICE FILES. But if you’ve tapped into the genre, it’s a must.
The best way to describe GOKU MIDNIGHT EYE is that it’s an anime cyberpunk version of MIAMI VICE. Seriously.
The main character, a private detective named Guku, drives a modified 80s-style Corvette and wears a suit and tie with a no shirt on underneath. The dialogue is also hard-boiled to an extreme. It makes GUN CRAZY sound natural.
The story of GOKU MIDNIGHT EYE is equally as silly but some of it is just so damn fun. For instance, the first episode features a robot stripper that is 4/5ths human and 1/5 Harley Motorcycle. She has handlebars. And a mouth that shoots a deadly laser beam. Which Goku severs off and uses as a weapon…You get the idea. It also has that look to it. That great 80s, hand-drawn look. Fun stuff if you’re in the mood.
Although created completely independently, the limited series, ANGEL COP is kind of Goku’s female counterpart. But she’s tougher and far meaner. In fact, I have no doubt she could kick Goku’s ass quite easily. She’s very good at fighting and killing things. Maybe a little too good according to some of her fellow special officers.
I’ll let you watch it to find out what I mean by all that. But needless to say, 1989’s ANGEL COP is some good stuff. The plot is about a future Japan which has become the world’s largest economy and all sorts of jealous rivals want to destabilize it.
Remember, this was made in the late 1980s before the Japanese economy took a dive into the toilet. There were a lot of very smart people who feared Japan would become the world’s leading economy and soon put bit players like the U.S. and China in their place.
Anyway, future Cyber-Tokyo looks pretty slick. It is also the perfect background for a lot of great, very violent scenes involving Angel Cop and those that she needs to deal with.
Speaking of bad ass female characters with a violent tendency, I need to talk about KITE. Unlike everything else mention in this post so far, KITE is NOT cyberpunk. It’s set in (then) present day Japan. It is the latest film in our mix, having come out in 1998. And it is also far and away the most controversial.
The version of KITE released in the U.S. was heavily cut. More importantly, despite her young appearance, it explicitly refers to Kite in the dialogue as an adult girl in college. This is huge. Why?
Because the full, unedited, original version is considered by many to be child pornography. It’s even banned in several countries. You see, in that version, KITE is referred to as a schoolgirl (as in High School or lower). And the full version includes several graphic sex scenes with her….Ick.
Which is fucked. And a shame, honestly, because the edited version available in the U.S. is really interesting without all that. Kite is this very innocent-looking girl who kills people. Not just people, but child molesters, in particular.
That twist on the bubble-headed, innocent schoolgirl characters so prevalent in Japanese anime is just great. Kite is cute and all but she’s a cold-blooded killer. The are many great, extremely violent, moments of Kite destroying all the sick little pervs that try to pray upon her.
Honestly, I’m kind of bummed I ever learned about the original, full version. I was perfectly happy to watch the American version without having to know all that about the full cut. That’ll teach me to dig deeper.
So, I’ll let you make your own call on that one. The American version of KITE is worth watching. But, now that you know what it evolved from, maybe it’s a little more complicated. Or not. Like I said, it’s your call.
Truth be told, ALL of these films that I have been talking about have things about them that just are not going to feel right to a lot of people seeing them for the first time. They are artifacts of their era. Not just the look and feel of them but the story lines themselves.
It’s part of what marks them as part of a sub-genre distinct from more modern anime. Kind of like women in prison films and other exploitation film genres of the 70s.They are what they are.
These dark and violent animes from the 80s and 90s have their own rules. Rules which would probably not fly today. And there is nothing else quite like them. Which is why I seek them out. I mean, where else can you see a naked, part stripper/part motorcycle, robot-chick shoot a laser beam out of her mouth to kill people?