Well, after numerous aborted stops and starts (and an overextended stay on a review that frankly is going to have to wait till later. Trust me, it will be coming) we at last come to, God willing, the first official entry for Heckling From the Third Row.
For this week, we're looking at a title that, even before this had really gone far as a concept, I vowed would be on the block. It's a title that has a rather curious past going for it. It's gained a massive reputation as being quite possibly one of the biggest cases of 'love it or hate it' out there (on the one hand, the main reason it has a sequel is support from fans in the US...on the other hand, it's also been coined in the English communities as the second worst anime ever made...simply because no one can agree what the first is.)
With a lead-in like that, some of you probably already know what I'm talking about...and hopefully those who don't are now intrigued
enough to stick around.
That's right folks. First item on the block is the infamous Japanese OVA 'M.D. Geist.'
For those who've never seen M.D. Geist before, the story is equal parts entertainingly cheezy and 'so simple a pathologically disturbed child could write it.' It takes place in the far future. It is a dark future, where mankind is consumed by war...as is the beginning of this title.
The opening sequences the audience is primarily treated to a series of scenes of futuristic combat that make for some nice bits of atmosphere, but largely don't really add much in the long run. Basically, you get the message of where this universe is going fairly quickly...to crib from the British company Games Workshop:
IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FUTURE, THERE IS ONLY WAR
...and so it's into this cheery setting, following a sequence of devastation, nice looking machinery, and people being killed in various sundry and bloody ways, that we're introduced to our lead.
His intro itself is also somewhat out of place in the long run. Geist, faking at being a corpse on a battlefield loaded with them, lies in wait for a low-flying military transport (populated by soldiers whose dialogue are textbook examples from the book of "We're SO fucked by the end of this scene!".) As it passes over, he launches onto it and proceeds to kill everyone on board, walking away from the wreckage with a grin on his face one usually associates with phrases like "Hey kid! Wanna see a dead body?"
I've got a good feeling about this guy already, don't you?
Yes, this gleefully grinning sociopath is the titular hero of our story. For those of you in the audience wondering, the M.D. in his name has a meaning. Geist is apparently part of a program called the Most Dangerous soldier program (now THAT's a name I can trust protecting us!)
Ironically enough, Geist apparently proved there is still such a thing as too dangerous for the M.D. program, as when the OVA begins, he's been sealed up in an orbiting satellite.
How he escapes is left something of a mystery. His official entry into the story comes when he crashes onto the colonized world of Jerra. What this place was like in the proverbial 'before time' is never made clear. All we know of its history is that the years of warfare have turned the place into your archetypical post-apocalypse wasteland.
Basically, the cast here fall into one of two camps:
-Scavenger gang members that missed the Mad Max casting call
-Power Armored military men.
When Geist touches down, he meets a team of the former in his quest for that which will make him happiest - gear to help him kill more people.
I suppose it's pretty fitting that the first thing he does in this is savagely kill a man for the right to a suit of combat armor.
Shows commitment to his job at least.
Anyways, the other gang members are surprised to say the least. Many of them are understandably leery about Cap'n Killcrazy...I would be too after watching him casually lop off a gargantuan thug's forearms with a knife...but their opinions don't really matter (quite literally. The characters here are one shot and mostly forgettable with the possible exception of one guy whose character design feels like the artists were torn between making a gay biker joke, and an 80s punk rock joke.) The only opinion that matters here comes from Vaiya, the team's second in command (its leader having just been made an organ donor) and apparently the last living woman on Jerra. They sure as Hell don't seem to be terribly visible elsewhere.
Here's some of the good ol' fashioned standard biker scum
...and then we have Marsh. The last living stereotype on planet Jerra
Granted, Geist doesn't seem that interested until she mentions working with the army. Enjoy this nugget of foreshadowing kids, it's one of the only ones we're gonna get.
Back at the base, the responses to Geist are...actually pretty unanimous.
Most of the gang feels he's playing with not so much a full deck as the 'How to Play Bridge' ad card they slip into some decks. The only differing opinions are Marsh, the earlier mentioned gay biker joke/80s rocker, that's trusting Vaiya, and Vaiya herself, who apparently has a thing for violent psychotics, as next thing we see, she's trying to sleep with Geist.
Unfortunately for her and all of the 2 or 3 of you that might have almost expected something romantic (most likely from turning this into a drinking game...this title's like a one-way ticket to shit-faced for that,) he's still fixated on finding his old army for payback, and promptly pitches her out.
Now...wait a sec...a guy grabs you by the hair and throws you out of the bed with a line like "I'm done with you" and you still want him?
Isn't this how abusive relationships start?
Of course, this whole irrelevant segue into development land is soon over, and it's back to the killin'!
What follows is another action sequence (well, play to one's strengths, really...cause it's sure not got a whole lot else running for it.)
Geist's now working with Vaiya's team and assisting a weakened army transport.
Several of the random bikers are killed, and Geist demonstrates the proper way to stab someone in the forehead.
But deep down, he really is a tender soul...
REALLY loves homicide.
In this battle, Geist, Vaiya, and their band of merry murderers meet up with regularly army, and more specifically, with their one token character that isn't just a meatbag, Colonel Krutes (who, it's revealed, seems to know Geist. More on that later, however.) It's here that we finally get a sense of more of a plot beyond "It's the future, and everyone kills one another."
The English release seems to have a hard time deciding just how to write his name actually...
but from the looks of the credits, it seems the dub guys won on Krutes.
More's the pity, otherwise I'd be milking the Hell out of Apocalypse Now jokes on this guy.
Seems during the earlier war, the regular army had developed a specialized doomsday weapon, with the straightforward name of DEATH FORCE.* The weapon, when activated, basically unleashed an army of robots designed to seek out and kill all life on the planet. Due to their army's leader having snuffed it some days earlier, the program is apparently now on its final countdown (and any of you who are now singing that song, stop it!) As a result, the Colonel and his men now must break into the highly guarded Brain Palace to shut it down (...gotta love the names in this...Most Dangerous Soldiers...Brain Palace...DEATH FORCE. All in English, I might add...these aren't translation problems.)
Ladies and Gentlemen: Exhibit A
*note - While it's not necessary, the writer of this review feels inclined to refer to the title in all capitals. Why? With a name like this, it's just too cheezy not to. For that matter, when being said, it's best if one says it like the singer of a death metal band...for that matter, I'd be amazed if there wasn't a metal band by this name out there...but I digress.
The Brain Palace. Home of the DEATH FORCE.
Any similarity to any Saturday morning villain's evil lair is purely coincidental.
Now, before the big finale starts, we have one last moment of drama. Seems the rest of the gang, justifiably so, smells death in the final reel. So they're gonna leave. This would be a touching moment if we really knew any of them, but as it is, this scene just exists to eliminate a potential loose end.
So long guys...I'd miss you, but about the closest we had to good times usually ended with one or more of you in a pool of blood, so...
Anyways, with that less than touching write-out out of the way, we can commence the final act!
There's no sense going into too much detail here. The finale plays out like Shakespeare...everyone dies in the last scenes.
...no really...well...almost everyone.
The final battle to get into Brain Palace is a veritable meat grinder as we watch most of the powered armor soldiers get savagely slaughtered by the base's defenses. Really though, let's face it, as far as this assault's concerned, only two players count - Geist and the Colonel.
Funny how that seems to keep happening in this, isn't it?
The latter gets ahead of the former and then reveals the plot twist we all saw coming from a mile away - He knew exactly who Geist was, in fact, he was the guy that put him on ice before, and now attempts a doublecross to finish him off.
What happens next is two things:
1) Geist fights a robot (...again, this movie does do
action well, I'll give it that.)
Part of me now has to wonder...
when they built this base, how much of what went into the budget was just to
make the bloodthirsty security droids look so stylish?
2) We highlight the movie's other good (intentional, anyways) side - Its music. The instrumentals aren't too shabby, albeit nothing that reaches out and grabs you. Lucky for us, this fight is, instead, set against one of two vocal songs provided for the movie by Hironobu Kageyama. As far as this movie's concerned, however, the draw isn’t as much his performance (although that is good), as it is some hilariously Engrished lyrics ("Dangerous: Most Dangerous! Raging fire of violence!") It's so bizarre you can't help but crack a smile.
Again, proof I'm not just lying for a cheap laugh at your expense...
Suffice it to say, Geist does, once again, what he was made to do and kills the robot. For an encore, he then settles things with the Colonel (guess how he does it...go on...guess.)
We'll even give you a hint...
Now we come to the best part - The big finale. Geist
goes up to the computer for the DEATH FORCE. The Colonel shut this thing down already, so happy ending right?
"But where's the fun in that?" asks the bloodthirsty
As though to act on the audiences behalf, Vaiya, who
somehow survived where a team of well equipped, trained soldiers were turned into something loosely resembling chili, enters.
"The battle's over."
"It's not over yet...the game's just
THAT'S RIGHT KIDS! HE TURNS IT BACK ON!
As a lead, Geist is a special sort. He's a clearly unstable, kill-crazy bastard, and an absolute shit when it comes to other people...but there's something kind of entertaining about it. We wouldn't want anything to do with the guy in person, but he's fun to watch.
Kind of like the rest of this movie, really. On one level, it's...well...pretty bad. Its plot meanders, its characters are about as deep as a root canal, and its animation runs anywhere from 'top notch for its time' to '...they just zoomed in on a single cel' (not joking, this DOES happen.)
And yet…there’s still a certain sick amusement to be found in just turning one’s brain off and enjoying the ride (incidentally, if you can, watch the English dub. Not cause it's a particularly great dub...in fact, it's labored with wooden acting and a severe case of recycled voices...but paired with this film, it gives the feel of being a surprisingly funny parody of a lot of the over-the-top violent action titles Japan's animation industry was churning out at the time.)
It's kind of a shame it turns out this way, though.
Seeing several of the comments from director Koichi Ohata (this was his first directorial project, before this making his name on mecha design on such titles as Gunbuster and Macross II) he didn't seem to be aiming for this to just be just an 'enjoy the ride' action fest. He does sound like he wants to try and make science fiction stories that raise some interesting points (and, if you squint, you can catch glimpses of this within Geist, where he occasionally grazes the target on the idea of technology and warfare.) Unfortunately, Ohata's a very visual director, it seems...as a result, his messages tend to get forgotten in seeing how many unique ways the cast for this project can die.
See this if you enjoy a good laugh at the over the top ridiculous
See this if anything in this review made you go "That just sounds stupid enough to be good."
Hell, even just see it for the experience of saying you've seen it (again, this is one where, depending who you ask, this will either become a cinematic battle scar, or a point for some great laughs.)
Just realize going in...despite what the case may say...you're probably not gonna be getting a masterpiece from this.
Also, on a final note with regards to the ending...
Yes, this DOES have a sequel.
In fact, come back next time, when we take another journey into Ohata-land
with M.D. Geist: DEATH FORCE
(...bring some boots. It's gonna get messy.)
It's a little bit like First Blood. Except now Rambo's just killing everyone for the Hell of it instead of cause "THE WAR'S NOT OVER!!!"