Monday, February 18, 2008

Rose Tinted Aviators:

New York not just City… It big state!”

I would like to take an opportunity to delve into some of the issues specifically covered in Fast Karate for the Gentleman’s Episode from 02/13/08; “Tell It To The Judge (My Gun Is The Judge).” I have to say that my i-pod is a bit backed up and so I was just getting around to listening to that on a long train ride yesterday.

I won’t be doing a ton of background on the subject, so I would encourage anyone to go and listen to Dave and Joel’s Fast Karate for the Gentleman show from Feb 13. However the main points will reveal themselves as this entry continues, and if you can’t figure things out, then go look it up on the interwebs or something because I don’t care.

As pointed out, “Angel Cop” is probably the most extreme example of this type of gonzo-ultra-violent action anime production which can still stay within realm of a basic appreciation of American anime fandom in general. Like it or hate it, Angel Cop still has its place in the early days of the “third age” of anime in America for better or for worse.

What was ignored in their critique however, is the commercial impact of that title. Much as modern otaku would rather it didn’t, at least the first volume of Angel Cop sold incredibly well, while volume two did very well for being a #2 in a series. Manga smartened up relatively quickly and soon put the whole thing on one tape, editing out the bits where there was too much talking and not enough splatter. If I recall correctly there wasn’t a subtitled version of this single release made available, and that of course was because the customers buying this thing weren’t anime fans at all, but just a mix of various youth cultures looking for “Akira Part 2” or at least something as “awesome as Ninja Scroll.” As far as sales went, this title was smoking and sold out more often than just about any other release out there at the time. The two separate outcomes of this popularity were one positive and one negative. First, this made anime (or at the time still commonly “Japanimation”) an attractive area for retailers who saw these spiking sales, and secondly the subject matter of the title served only to confirm the pre-existing notions of mainstream media that “anime” was nothing more than borderline pornographic blood-soaked horrific manifestations of sick individuals for strict relegation to the adults-only area of less than reputable entertainment media retail establishments. Thankfully, that effect was short lived, but the economic effects of Angel Cop are ones that were indeed important up to perhaps even the present day.

The next release from Marv’s Manga Entertainment label to push these boundries was Mad Bull 34, an insane romp through a fictional New York City police duo’s crime fighting (and crime committing) adventures, so full of impossible gunfights, even more impossible decapitations, and a plotline so outrageous that even well over a decade later it continues to be unintentionally funny. Looking at this turd, it’s very difficult to imagine how anyone would imagine New York in such a way as this… that is until you realize that this was made in Japan.

The average Japanese has no idea what the rest of the world is like beyond smatterings of popular culture, pressure molded into preconceived notions of how things are “supposed to be.” You ask an anime Otaku over there what America is, and you’ll get a strange picture of New York on one end, LA on the other, and somewhere in the middle is Chicago, Disney World, and nothing else. One reason for this is that suburban sprawl and car-culture simply do not exist in Japan. The average commuter takes a very well maintained and highly developed public transportation system to work and has no need for a car. Ever. This kind of lifestyle simply leads to a notion that the majority of the population is clustered around major urban centers and things like the sprawling developments of Long Island and Indiana simply can’t exist, and therefore no one lives in such areas. When going to undergrad in New York, I ended up in that “upstate” part of it, where I encountered many a stranded Japanese exchange student stuck in places like Albany, Buffalo, or Plattsburg, all of whom simply saw the name “New York” and figured they’d be living in the Empire State Building and walking to see the Statue of Liberty in Central Park (yeah I know… but they didn’t). Another one of them came up with the following revelation only after getting over here; “New York, it not just city! It Big state!” (Yes that’s a quote).

Even here in the city itself, there are plenty of very jaded and disenfranchised Japanese, who simply assumed that New York was just Tokyo with white people. What’s interesting in this particular instance is that Japanese women ex-pats seem to be light-years more prepared than their male counterparts. I am personally chalking this up to the fact that a great many Japanese women here have no intention of returning to a culture and economy where one becomes a pariah for passing 30 without having kids, and the best job you could hope for had the letters “O” and “L” in the job description. One friend of mine even brought her Japanese “NYC Preparedness” book with her, and in it was a graphic illustration of the differences between the Tokyo Met Police, and the NYPD. You didn’t have to know a word of Japanese to figure that as far as this book was concerned “The NYPD is NOT your FRIEND, DO NOT APPROACH” ...a rather accurate depiction I am afraid.

So maybe it’s no wonder that something like Mad Bull 34 is more than a possibility when coming from an insulated, over self-policing, borderline xenophobic culture with a fascination of violence stemming from historical amnesia so strong that contemporary college students know the kami kaze only as that rainstorm that prevented Genghis Khan’s army from taking over Kyushu and not that whole crashing planes into ships thing. Yes Mad Bull 34 is the product of such a morbid violence fascination combined with an immense (or perhaps willful) ignorance in both the fields of American life, and mechanics of firearms. This latter ignorance is prevalent even in some of the greater works of anime such as the works of Kenichi Sonoda where Bean Bandit can somehow stop 9mm auto fire from 2 feet away simply with the mass of his forearms (no it wasn’t the bullet proof jacket thing) and come away with nothing more than what looks like wounds from an airsoft. Yes my friends, it has long been known that anime involving guns has operated in a world where most physics do not exist and “recoil” is something heard only in ancient legends.

But that’s ok. As any otaku will tell you, when physics intrudes into an otherwise enjoyable anime, it ruins the fun, and many a title has been embraced by the fans while still thumbing its nose at one Isaac Newton. So what makes Mad Bull 34 different? It’s that other deficiency, the one about not knowing America, or more specifically New York. The program does its best to try to look sort of authentic by incorporating background images from actual location photos (hey Dave, that grocery store they rob in the beginning is that Key Food on 5th Ave and Baltic over by where the Ninja Consultants used to live), and that seems only to make worse the amazingly comedic criminal types that are presented such as roller skating armed robbers that dawn day-glo hockey masks, or crazy gangs of slash-happy cop-killer lesbians with pink hair which would only seem genuinely believable as criminals to a Japanese audience. Remember this is the same country where you are supposedly a tough guy if you drive around in one of these:

After laughing at the owner of one of those things in the parking lot of a Sizeria, I have to say that the only thing I am now scared of in Japan are the ごきぶり.

Decapitation by 12gage might be believable if this were happening in some sort of future world, which is what allowed Angel Cop to get away with similar jaw dropping stupidity. But in Mad Bull 34, that’s just too much to ask for, and with the exception to the plebeians of Cyberpunk from a decade ago (I’m not calling Cyberpunk plebeian, just saying it has a whole section of wannabes), or unless you are looking for “Akira part 2”, there is no need to actually watch this program.

However this is not the end of what Mad Bull 34 was. We must remember that it if not for the rapid growth of the Anime market in the U.S. that this thing would have stayed buried in Japan along with things like Devil Hunter Yoko, Burn Up, The Humanoid, and all that other fodder that lead the way into the international market and have probably been seen by more Americans at this point than Japanese. It had straddled that portion of the timeline where releases went from catering to a general youth crowd and labels simply saw otaku as a minimized fringe group which although they spent the highest ratio of dollars per person on releases there were simply not enough of them and acquitted as such, to an era where the habitual anime buyer would become a dominant market force made possible by a rapid proliferation of anime on American TV for the first time marketed and presented as “anime” and not just another program. Mad Bull 34 was one of the last of the anime properties brought over for exactly the same jaw dropping graphic depictions aimed at the non-otaku anime buyer of the mid 1990’s who was only after explosions and nudity. If you are reading this, you are not, nor were you ever, part of that group no matter how much you wish otherwise.


Daryl Surat said...

If Angel Cop was such a gangbusters runaway hit, then why is it so impossible for people to buy it on DVD now? It's not like Ninja Scroll went out of print. I bet the true villains behind Angel Cop are responsible. Clearly, Dave's and your hatred of Mad Bull is solely due to the fact that New Yorkers are all a bunch of pansies.

Now post the video.

The Angry Otaku said...

"Was" is the key word. The momentum generated by the novelty of Ninja Scroll and other things introducing crowds to "anime" for the first time, is now directed to other areas. More often than not, it's something else that is a person's first introduction to anime, and so Angel Cop can't really cash in. Besides maybe Manga didn't renew their license?