By Andy Na / July 24th, 2013
Often when we look for lesser-known or under-appreciated works from artists, we keep our expectations in check so we won’t disappoint ourselves. But sometimes when we experience them, they end up becoming our favorites. For myself, no anime by Yoshiaki Kawajiri excites me more than Cyber City Oedo 808, his cyberpunk OVA series that would give light to his later iconic films, like Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
Cyber City Oedo 808 takes place in the futuristic metropolis of Oedo, where technology and architecture elevate as far as its crime rate and corruption would take them: up to the skies. The entire series is three episodes long and focuses on each of the inmates with episodic, standalone stories. We begin in outer space, where a penitentiary orbiting around the Earth holds three of our main characters: Sengoku (the tough guy), Gogol (the hacker), and Benten (the androgynous silent killer). They are called out of their holding cells by Hasegawa, the chief of the Cyber Police division, who grants them an opportunity to reduce their sentences and win back their freedoms if they agree to help investigate and catch Oedo’s criminals. Although they know it’s a trap, they accept his offer anyway out of boredom and wanting to be free again, and are thus given explosive collars around their necks. If they don’t complete a mission within 24 hours, or if they decide to dismantle their collars, the bombs will go off and kill them.
The artwork and animations themselves are great to look at, and Madhouse has done a wonderful job under Kawajiri’s direction. There’s lots of stylized action with flashy lighting effects, rapid-fire editing, and slicing motions that slash through the air before cutting to the next angle, which would become a signature style by Kawajiri in his later films. The anime was made in 1990, but there is a distinct ’80s charm and sensibility behind the sound and imagery that the creators put a lot of attention in to recreating the era. The coloring style uses bright lighting with neon hues, and the character designs are pulpy with fashion senses that would either be reminisced over or ridiculed today, and a musical soundtrack containing heavy metal and synthesized pop. Even the city of Oedo resembles a technocratic world straight off an ’80s movie, with its steely blue buildings, dark skies, blinking monitor screens, and massive scale. Did I forget to mention there are killer AI’s, robotic freak experiments, vampiric mutants, and walruses wearing augments that shoot lasers from their mouths?
A notable difference between the English and Japanese versions for Cyber City is how well its English dub interprets the story world, despite that it was handled by Manga UK in the mid-1990s. As per the infamous trend of profanity-laden dubs led by this company, Cyber City‘s crass writing fits in perfectly with the overall pulpy visual style. If you want to see the video dedicated to the swearing alone, feel free to click this link to watch the rather NSFW video.
The dubbing adds an extra layer in giving the characters a push for their personalities. Sengoku, who is a hardened cynic, becomes more callous and loose-cannon thanks to the dub. Hasegawa, who is stern and domineering, becomes pushier and more insensitive to the inmates. Even Sengoku’s banter at his robot partner Varsus, which is supposed to be comic relief, becomes campier. It makes the anime a lot sleazier and more bleak as a result, which is fitting for the crime-ridden city of Oedo. There was even a separate musical score for the Manga UK version, which had harder, edgier, and arguably more atmospheric soundtrack before the license got nabbed by US Manga Corp, a division of the now-defunct Central Park Media, bringing back the original Japanese music. Having watched the episodes with the Japanese music, I have to say that I prefer the latter, due to having that ’80s charm that the animations are based on, but the former has good sound by itself.
So if you’re a fan of Yoshiaki Kawajiri anime, or just a lover of ’80s movies and action films, then you may want to check out Cyber City Oedo 808. You can find the entire series new on Amazon for literally $3.00 in one DVD package. It’s a nice seminal piece before the greats that we know from this director in the present. It’s also the kind of work that we can all look back to and see how much his style has matured. And maybe after watching Cyber City, we may become tempted to look back at earlier works, like Wicked City or Demon City Shinjuku.
Cyber City Oedo 808 was released on DVD in North America by US Manga Corp, a Central Park Media division. Prior to its North American release, it was dubbed and distributed by Manga Entertainment UK. The release features the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and an English dub. The series is not rated, but is suggested for ages 16+ by the publisher for graphic violence.
anime of the pastCentral Park Mediacyber city oedo 808Madhousemanga ukYoshiaki Kawajiri