Saturday, October 31, 2015

10th anniversary of 15th anniversary of Metal Skin Panic Madox-01

This review of AnimEigo’s Madox-01 15th Anniversary Special Collector’s Edition first appeared in 2005. Since then, I’ve learned a few more things about Madox-01, namely that Hideaki “Evangelion” Anno did some key animation for it, and that my DVD of this title has mysteriously vanished. Did I loan it to you?

Notable for being AnimEigo’s first release, Metal Skin Panic Madox-01 led the way for uncut, subtitled Japanese animation to the American market.  Before this release, anime in the States was available either as chopped-and-dubbed kidvid for the afterschool UHF audience, or as cheaply designed videotapes in the “Family” section of your local video rental. After AnimEigo and Madox, America would see an invasion of unadulterated, sometimes adults-only anime aimed directly at the shelves of your local Blockbuster, and things would never be the same again.

Apart from this note of historical interest, Madox is otherwise unremarkable except to serve as an example of several things: of the mid-1980s Original Video Animation boom, of the persistence of abnormal hair color in Japanese anime characters, and of just how obsessive and nitpicky a design team can get when it comes to military hardware.

The OVA era of the 1980s is an important time in Japanese animation; creative teams raised on groundbreaking animation like Gundam and Yamato seized the means of production and started producing direct-to-video animation. Titles like Vampire Hunter D, Bubblegum Crisis, and M.D. Geist would become legends, while others like Digital Devil Story and Cosmos Pink Shock would vanish into sometimes well-deserved obscurity.  Unrestrained by the mores of television broadcasters or the financial obligations of theatrical release, OVA productions used their freedom to produce groundbreaking, artistically challenging works that were too risky for traditional release, animation that reflected more personal visions, rather than the needs of the toy company sponsors.  Plus, they were easier for American fans to get, since you didn’t have to know somebody in Japan to tape anime from television broadcasts- you could just buy the damned things and have done with it. 

Lack of toy company sponsorship is kind of a shame in the case of Madox-01, since the mechanical hardware on display in this video cries out for a highly detailed toy.  This 1988 release is the story of the MADOX, a self-contained personal armored combat machine; in other words, a very plausible looking, technically feasible version of that hoary old staple of Japanese animation, the giant robot.  Developed by Japanese heavy industry under contract with the US Army and the Japanese Self Defense Forces, we first see the MADOX in action as it defeats three heavy tanks in fierce combat. The American tank commander Kilgore wants a rematch, but MADOX’s test pilot Kusomoto, who is naturally a sexy Japanese woman with orange hair and a tight combat suit, isn’t interested.  The MADOX is crated up and put on a truck to be sent to the US HQ in Tokyo

After Tokyo’s bad drivers cause the truck to crash, the crated-up MADOX winds up in an auto repair shop.  Teenage greasemonkey Kouji takes it home to spend the afternoon messing with the whatever-it-is before he meets his girlfriend that night.  So he puts the MADOX on, which by the way was shipped while in “scramble mode”, and before he knows it the thing is rocketing through the Tokyo streets, out of control, with the JSDF and the US Army in hot pursuit.

Now Kouji has to dodge Kusomoto who’s in MADOX-02, he’s under attack from Col. Kilgore riding a cute little articulated tank, the skies are full of Apache attack helicopters – and he’s got to meet his girlfriend atop the NSR Building before she leaves forever!!  What’s a Japanese teenager to do?

What follows is standard-issue anime-style urban property destruction, replete with authentic otaku-approved guns & ammo and a mysterious lack of civilian casualties.  You remember what high-tech war is like – lots of expensive precision machinery operated by skilled, highly trained professional technicians, waged far away from noncombatants, and not much at all like the real thing.  For all its fetishization of military hardware, Madox-01 is as much of a fantasy as the dumbest, most outlandish transforming robot cartoon. Which, by the way, is UFO Diapollon. Or maybe Magnetic Robo Ga-Keen.

The theme of military action destroying an unwitting civilian Tokyo has been visited in the world of anime many times, most notably by Hayao Miyazaki in Lupin III episode #155, “Farewell Lovely Lupin”, where the spectacle of tanks and artillery blasting away at Tokyo landmarks was shown to have terrible consequences. There’s no such moralizing here in Madox, where the full panoply of warfare is unleashed with total casualties being, um, one.

Of course, expecting any kind of editorial position from a 40-minute OVA is probably asking too much, but jeez, the guys who made this video lived within a subway ride of some of the heaviest firepower on that side of the globe, and you’d think they had some sort of opinion about it other than, “boy, isn’t this stuff cool.”  Then again, this was the 1980s; destruction without context was just the way things were done back then.

Giant shoulders, suspenders, and a wimped-out synthesizer soundtrack constantly remind the viewer that he is back in the days of Max Headroom and New Coke.  Tamura Hideki’s character designs reach a nadir of sorts in Kusomoto; her giant forehead and weirdly angled chin resemble nothing so much as the specter of perennial TV game show guest Dorothy Kilgallen.  ARTMIC’s  animation is naturally obsessive and detailed in scenes containing military ordinance, and surprisingly inept with the human figure; there are some rather basic animation errors towards the end of Madox-01 that show us exactly where the studio’s mind was.

The English dub, by Swirl, isn’t really anything special; there’s not a lot of dialog in this OVA to begin with, and what we do get is rendered competently but without flash. Subtitles include details on what “N.B.C.” warfare means, and suffice to say we’re not talking Leno versus Letterman. There are two Japanese language tracks, one with English subtitles and another with minimal subtitles, a nice touch for those conversant with the language.

Further evidence as to what floats Madox-01’s boat is evident in the ten-minute accompanying featurette, a live-action documentary look at the JSDF’s heavy hitters circa 1988.  Apache helicopters, tanks, howitzers, rocket launchers, recoilless rifles, and other crowd-pleasers are shown at the Mt. Fuji proving grounds, blasting helpless paper targets into oblivion as we’re shown the real-life versions of all those models in Godzilla films. It’s an interesting look at Japan’s defense-only military during the height of cold-war bubble-economy budgets.

Madox-01’s place in AnimEigo history is confirmed with another extra, a Q&A session with CEO Robert Woodhead that reveals, among other things, that for their first release he chose Madox over Project A-Ko. Another Q&A with audio director Eric Tomosunas of Swirl Recordings & Film isn’t quite as interesting.  The commentary track features Eric and several of the lead Madox voice talent.  Early on diverges from commenting on Madox to a round-table discussion on what it’s like to dub Japanese cartoons in general;  interesting, but not anything that hasn’t happened at every anime convention ever.

As an historical artifact, this 15th anniversary edition of Madox-01 is about as classy a package as you’re going to get for a 40-minute, otherwise forgotten OVA.  It’s a relic from the early days of direct-to-video animation, and much like its counterparts from those days, isn’t a bad piece of anime for an evening’s rental.  There’s something to be said for a short, self-contained story with enough action and suspense to keep itself going for 40 minutes.  You’re not asked for a long investment of time, there aren’t legions of characters to keep track of or a backstory to research; just put it on the TV and enjoy watching the stuff blow up. 

1 comment:

Dustin Kopplin said...

Well, it does have the greatest song... in the world...