Dominion: Tank Police is a four-episode OVA series that saw its first episode released in 1988 and concluded in 1989. Based on the manga by Masamune Shirow, creator of such works as Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed, it tells the comedic tale of a special police unit in the heavily polluted city of Newport in which the officers are equipped with massive, cannon-wielding tanks for combating the rampant crime problem, but more often than not cause just as much havoc as they’re supposed to prevent. Dominion’s four episodes are divided into two stories, each comprised of two acts.
The story is set against the backdrop of a grim environmental future; a large swath of the planet has been covered in a toxic bacterial cloud that forces those living in it to wear gas masks while outdoors. Though the premise of police using tanks to fight violent crime in such a polluted world might sound like the beginnings of a grim tale of street war and environmentalism, Dominion: Tank Police is anything but. While portions of the series, particularly in its latter episodes, do take a more serious, introspective turn at times, all four episodes are patently ridiculous.
The absurdity stems from the depiction of the Tank Police themselves; a rowdy band of lunatics whose preferred methods of interrogation involves jamming a live grenade in a suspect’s mouth and then playing hazardous carnival games at the perp’s expense while taking wagers on how long he lasts before cracking and spilling his guts. And when they’re on the streets fighting crime, they pilot their tanks with little regard for their surroundings, causing large-scale property damage up to and including the total collapse of buildings. This in turn puts the mayor and police chief under a constant storm of damage claim paperwork.
In the first two episodes, this boys club madhouse is disrupted by the presence of its newest member, the young female officer and former motorcycle cop Leona Ozaki. At first, Leona is forced to struggle for acceptance in the unit. In particular, the unit’s captain, the prideful Britain, is ready to force her out almost from the start. And his feelings only grow stronger when Leona gets caught up in a battle that results in the destruction of his prized, specially crafted tank.
But Leona manages to earn her place among their ranks, and their respect, eventually becoming just another one of the guys. And though she starts off as perhaps the sanest and most rational member of the team, she becomes just as tank-crazy and prone to comical suspect abuse as the rest of the squad. Some of Britain’s own tank-mania seems to rub off on her after she and fellow rookie Al build a brand-new minitank for her own use from scrap, which she affectionately names Bonaparte. And Heaven help the fool that puts a dent in her beloved tank.
Of course, as with any tale of cops and robbers, there are also the robbers. In this case, a small gang led by the lowlife thug Buaku and his sidekicks, the twin catgirls Annapuma and Unipuma. And in their first caper, the trio invades a hospital in order to steal prized urine samples. Yes, urine samples. The reason as to why this human waste is of importance is shrouded in conspiratorial mystery, but Buaku and the Puma sisters have considerable backing for the endeavor; so much so that when their first attempt fails, they’re given tanks of their own to counter the tank police.
The second caper, and the focus of the third and fourth episodes, however, takes on a more personal, introspective tone for Buaku. The target of his latest heist is a valuable painting worth a fortune; a painting that he happens to be the subject of and that doubles as the last evidence of the forbidden scientific experimentation that created him. After he’s wounded, he takes Leona hostage using a bio-ball that fastens to the officer’s neck and threatens to strangle the life out of her. They begin a trek back to Buaku’s meeting place, where he promises to give her the antidote if she’ll allow him to go free. A mutual respect ultimately grows between them as their survival depends on their cooperation, particularly after a law-spurning mercenary company hired to recover the painting begins hunting them down at any cost.
However, as noted before, even these more dramatic moments are lightened by the overall comedic tone. Gleeful in the Tank Police’s habitual excessive force and love of oversized firearms, phallic jokes are all over the place, ranging from the mildly subtle to the over-the-top. Such as when nearly the entire Tank Police unit is done in by giant plastic penises.
In a similar vein, Buaku’s sidekicks, the Puma sisters, routinely steal the show. Early on in the first episode, they successfully manage to distract an entire SWAT team by performing a strip tease. And when the cops are sufficiently distracted by their mind-numbing horniness, the girls immediately leap into action and fire on them with machine guns. Sex and violence, all in a pair of vaguely feline packages.
The success of the goofball humor in Dominion can be largely attributed to its art. Colorful and expressive, the characters and their actions are consistently in top form, with expressive faces and body language that sells the jokes as well as the dialogue. Britain’s depiction is particularly melodramatic with a mood that shifts between cool stoicism, fervent devotion to duty, fiery rage and pathetic despair. His lunacy is emblematic of the Tank Police as a whole.
The anime adaptation of Dominion: Tank Police is a ridiculous, juvenile romp in the best possible way. Rarely taking itself seriously, it hits hard with its humor, which only makes the characters more endearing in the moments it becomes serious. They’re not a group that anyone would want to meet in an interrogation room, but when viewed through the safety of a television screen, they’re an insane bunch that’s worth coming back to visit again.
Dominion: Tank Police was released on DVD in North America by U.S. Manga Corps, a Central Park Media label. The release features the original Japanese with English subtitles and an English dub. It is not rated, but contains brief nudity, suggestive content, and adult humor.