Black Magic M-66
Action - Characterisation + Explosions = Brief but fun anime.
Based on Shirow's earliest serial comic book, this story is a short and sweet action anime that is beginning to show it's age, but remains a fairly good romp. Proceedings kick off with a military transport helicopter crashing over a woodland area, for reasons that are never fully explained apart from a vague hint suggesting sabotage. Given the pace of events though, there's no real time for hunting down the black box. The military are quickly called in to assess the situation.
Events like these are unlikely to be missed by crack investigative reporter Sybel, dashing to the scene in a battered old motor that seems to be a 2CV. She stops to collect her long-suffering, strangely named klutz of a cameraman Leakey. They sneak up on the scene of the accident, overhearing the Major in charge ordering his troops to find two canisters that were transporting new prototype, powerful humanoid battle droids.
It wouldn't be a spectacular story if they were easily retrievable, so it's no surprise that when the troops locate the canisters they are a tad lacking in content. While scouring the area, they find and arrest our intrepid news crew. The military soon forget about their captives in favour of other problems - while they were looking for the robots, the robots found them.
In terms of power, these 'bots are rather like acrobatic Terminators, jumping and flipping around while dispatching wave after wave of hapless soldiers. At a great cost, the platoon manages to destroy one of the robot nuisances, but the second robot escapes to go after another target. In the confusion, it's easy for Sybel to escape after a robot destroys her guard. Leakey has to be left, due to said guard previously tiring of his antics and knocking him unconscious.
The military call in the creator of the robots to assist in their capture and to work out where the errant droid is heading. He's very much the standard old, nutty professor type in a film that has to rely overly on clich?s for characterisation as there simply isn't enough time to flesh out compelling characters. Besides, it just gets in the way of the primary purpose of the film - blowing stuff up. Our scientist is none too happy with the robots activation, as they were supposed to be reprogrammed before this. As a result, they are now trying to track down and kill the good doctor's granddaughter.
Both Sybel and the army try to track down the ditsy teenager, prompting a series of car chases, gunfights and explosions throughout the countryside and the city in search of Ferris, with the surviving M-66 robot (codenamed Mario, oddly) proving a continual source of annoyance and death.
In terms of plot, that's pretty much it. There's no point in describing what unfolds in the solid half hour chunk of action that this bit represents. None of the characters develop any, bar some of them dying, but this never advertises itself as a character study. Time and a low budget have not been kind to these scenes, however. Nothing is outright awful but the animation is so much more sophisticated on later Shirow affairs like Ghost In The Shell and even Appleseed that this looks badly dated in comparison.
Which isn't to say it's not enjoyable to watch. It's at least tightly storyboarded, and it's easy to appreciate the build up to the final skyscraper destroying rooftop showdown between Sybel and the rampaging robot. Its only downfall is that we're given precious little incentive to care about the survival of anyone, as there is no time allotted to any characterisation for anyone. Ferris is cute, Sybel is spunky and that's all that we have to work with. If you're a fan of stereotypes this may be enough for you, for anyone else it'll hamper any enjoyment to be had.
For the most part it's an unremarkable movie, although oddly enjoyable given what it displays. The most interesting aspect here is seeing how the style, character design and storytelling skills of Shirow evolves through this, Appleseed and Ghost In The Shell. For the completist fan in may be worth a purchase for novelty value, although for anyone else it falls more into the 'watch it if it appears on telly and there's nothing else to do' category. The constant action and explosions are a distraction from how shallow this anime is, but also the cause of how shallow this anime is. Sometimes that's a good thing though, and while this won't challenge you mentally it's a likeable, C-4 packed piece of fluff that you can watch between epics without ruining your appetite.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
DVD Notes:- Okay, the main thing to point out is that it's available as a double pack with Plastic Little. While neither are classics, if you see this set at a reasonable price it's probably worth snapping up for even a casual anime fan.
The transfer (on both films, incidentally) however is pretty poor, as you can see from the screenshots. There seems to be very little to distinguish them from VHS copies, it seems. At least the soundtrack seems to have survived substantially better that the video has. There are no other extras at all, and it's hard coded subs with a Japanese audio only.
At this kind of quality, I wouldn't ordinarily recommend buying it if there was any hope at all of an enhanced version, but that's never going to appear for these comparatively obscure titles. As I say, if you see it cheap, pounce on it, otherwise you could happily live without it.
Chisa Yokoyama (Ferris)
Ichiro Nagai (Dr. Matthew)
Yu Mizushima (Leakey)