Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Force To Prefecturally Earth Defend

Prefectural Earth Defense Force aka Kenritsu Chikyû Bôeigun came out of nowhere into our anime club screenings of the late 1980s. Back then it was all new and exciting; Prefectural High School Earth Defense Force, as we mislabeled it, was shown with as much fanfare or anticipation as Urusei Yatsura or Vampire Hunter D or Dirty Pair or Zeta Gundam or Macross or Madox 01 or Bubblegum Crisis; it was all new to us.

What made PEDF stand out, even to our profoundly uneducated eyes, was very simple; it’s plain crazy. The thing is funny in a very specific cartoon fashion that transcends language, culture, class, creed, race, religion or national origin.  After 20 years I’m still dropping it onto unsuspecting audiences and getting laughs; a video like that is a rare beast indeed. Sure, it's full of specific Japanese pop-culture references, the kind of references that fill most modern "comedy”.  But here it’s a bonus, not the main attraction; PEDF succeeds in spite of the Varan the Unbelievable sequence or the Rainbowman aside, goofy enough without rubbing your nose in your own otaku stink. 

note: giant robot may not actually appear in video

Chikyû Bôeigun was the original title of Toho's The Mysterians, arguably the first science fiction film highlighting Japan's flavor of mecha-infused SF - spaceships, ray guns, evil aliens, giant monsters, robots – that we’d see parlayed into legions of rubber-suit monster films and silver-suited giant-hero TV shows. Kenritsu Chikyû Bôeigun, on the other hand, is the flip side of Japan’s love of science patrols and sentai teams – a low-budget defense force financed on a small municipal budget, composed of a failed baseball team, a foreign exchange student, and a morally suspect faculty advisor.  Luckily, their adversaries are just as goofy; wanna-be world dominators perhaps equipped with super-scientific weapons and legions of faceless minions, but hamstrung by melodramatic ineptitude. 

1986’s Prefectural Earth Defense Force OVA was, like so many other OAV, based on a manga: Koichiro Yasunaga’s PEDF ran in Shonen Sunday from 1983 until 1985, with a subsequent 4-volume reprint. Yasunaga’s later work includes Kaseijin Deka (Martian Detective) and the superhero spoof Chō Kankaku Analman, which is just as unfortunate as it sounds. He has a fun, active anime-manga style that fits right in with 80s Shonen Sunday, kind of a cleaner, less raggedy version of what fellow Sunday artist Kazuhiko Shimamoto was doing in his contemporaneous Blazing Transfer Student. Both the PEDF comic and the cartoon are infused with an infectious sense of fun, the same kind of nonsensical goofball whack-a-doodlery that you get in the best Urusei Yatsura or Sasuga No Sarutobi comics, infested with nerd-culture shoutouts like chapter titles parodies of Ultra Seven episodes or naming a major character after the composer of Godzilla’s theme music. 

If you’re familiar with the OVA, you know how the manga begins. Warned by a threatening pay-phone call, the governor of an unnamed Kyushu prefecture needs a defense against the world-domination plans of the Phone Pole Team, who have decided to start small and begin their world dominating from the vicinity of the local high school. Thus:  Prefectural Earth Defense Force. Promises of a fat expense account convince high schoolers Morita, Sukekubo, and Akiko Ifukube to abandon their dreams of Koshien glory and instead become an Earth-defending justice league, overseen by math teacher Roberi.  But can their combined strength and clearance-sale uniforms withstand the onslaught of lumber dynasty scion Kisoya Chilthonian Bunzaemon Jr and his Phone Pole Team?  Phone Pole tactical commander Baradagi enlists the super ESP powers of Marker Light – whose psychic abilities are limited to vegetables – to open the assault on decency and good government. Yams fly thru the air and the war for mankind begins; an ever escalating whirlwind of unguided cyborg missiles, beach parties, flying vegetables, mohawked musclemen, faceless minions, and Party Beams. 
The Baltimore Boys bring American-style action to the prefecture

Indian exchange student and accidental 8,000 horsepower cyborg Kami Santin escapes from the university hospital and is found by faculty supervisor Roberi, who mistakes Santin for a drunken co-ed.  Santin is duly enlisted into the PEDF, in spite of his hatred of all things Japanese. Before this newcomer is even properly scoped out by our nosy heroes, Baradagi arrives with the Phone Pole Team’s top agent Scope Tsurusaki to try and talk Santin into switching teams, resulting in missile-firing, nose-punching, house-destroying hell breaking loose. 

Masked New Year and his Party Beam strike again!

Santin becomes the focus of the Phone Pole Team’s efforts but world domination is overshadowed by the day-to-day antics of the goofs on both sides. Baradagi goes undercover as a high school student named Ryuko Hara – well, okay, she actually IS a high school student named Ryuko Hara, working part-time for the Phone Pole Team – to create a scandal by seducing Roberi. The Phone Pole Team’s own cyborg-gal Yuko arrives to destroy Santin, who doesn’t want to fight but whose missiles are not always under his control. An after-hours Morita and Baradagi put aside their day-job difference for a date. Ifukube meets her ideal, the Mohawk-sporting beefcake Battle Japan, the PEDF is menaced by the Japanese-language-deficient, crossdressing Baltimore Boys, and Masked New Year blasts his Party Beam which instantly transforms any group of people into a wild New Years party.  Yuko is turned back into a normal human, albeit of a different sex, then changed back into a girl and cloned, while Santin also gets the Christine Jorgensen treatment. 

The PEDF defeats Glycogen X in hand-to-hand karaoke battle, Santin’s lumber exec sister Pamela arrives to sell Santin on the glories of the Phone Pole Team, Baradagi is forced into bicycle tofu delivery hell, and inevitably, everybody visits Los Angeles. Suddenly it’s 1985 and time for the manga to end (apart from a doujinshi sequel). The story doesn’t end there, however; Japan was in the middle of an OAV boom and what more deserving property could there be than Kenritsu Chikyû Bôeigun, I ask you? None, that’s what.

psychological profile of the Prefectural Earth Defense Force and their inner desires 

We join the (directed by animation veteran Keiji “Future Boy Conan” Hayakawa) PEDF in the middle of Morita’s earthshaking super science-fiction dream which is helpfully described in the lyrics of the rockin’ theme song by Japanese power pop trio Johnny, Louis & Char (Johnny Yoshinaga, Luis Kabe, and Japan’s national guitar hero Char). While Morita and Sukekubo snore, an angry Santin escapes from the local university hospital, our prefectural governor gets his world domination phone call, and all the pieces for Prefectural Earth Defending fall into place. With animation talent like Urusei Yatsura veterans Katsumi Aoshida and Shichiro Kobayashi it’s no surprise we’re in store for UY style bonks, booms, grunts and pows as Santin’s missiles meet Scope Tsurusaki’s Ultra Scope, milk-drinking Chilthonian plays host to the Prefectural Governor’s cute secretary, and nobody’s safe when Santin spots Roberi with Baradagi. 

Santin has a problem with going off too soon

Before you know it, Santin and Yuko are waking up with all-new aftermarket parts and Morita and Ryuko/Baradagi are walking the streets hand in hand to the wistful sounds of Johnny, Louis & Char as the credits roll.  The direct-to-video format seems perfect for titles like PEDF; the material may not stretch as successfully into a 2-hour feature or a TV season but as a 50 minute OVA you’re left entertained and sad there isn’t more.

Colonel Baradagi, Scope Tsurusaki, and friend

PEDF was released on VHS, Beta, the shortlived VHD format, and Laserdisc. As much as it made American fans laugh, it never achieved the status of fellow ’86 releases like Guyver, MD Geist, Megazone 23 part 2, or Gall Force.  However, when the North American anime boom finally hit in the mid 2000s and everything else was getting an American release, PEDF was always on the top of our wish list. Finally in 2006 ADV decided to take some of the money they were throwing at that live-action Evangelion movie (how’d that work out for you?) and spend it on releasing Prefectural Earth Defense Force as a limited edition subtitle-only DVD, sold direct through ADV’s website.  Promotional and advertising for the release was apologetic and/or nonexistent; news sites claimed it was of interest only to old-school die-hards who might have seen it fansubbed back in the day and that modern audiences would not understand all the references or the parodies, and henceforth would not enjoy it. This is of course complete nonsense; audiences completely unfamiliar with any sort of Japanese animation have been laughing themselves stupid over PEDF for years, and the practically top-secret ADV release sold out in about ten minutes. Try buying it today for less than $100. Go on, try. I’ll wait.

The cyclical nature of history is proved anew with the story of the Prefectural Earth Defense Force, a video that came out of nowhere, made us laugh, vanished, came again out of nowhere, made us laugh, and again vanished. Will it ever return? Have we seen the last of Morita, Santin, and Colonel Baradagi? The answer is on the wind, blowing past Imazuru High School, whistling forlornly through the phone poles.

-Dave Merrill

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DFS said...

Many years ago, PEDF was thought to be lost, the rights hopelessly tangled in some kerfluffle or another. The only subtitled version available was on VHS. I recall hearing secondhand that Right Stuf had tried to do a deal to release it in the states and hit a brick wall.

One day, some friends of mine saw that the laserdisc version had popped up on Yahoo Auctions Japan. This was a surprising occurrence, because the LD was rare as hell. Fellow we knew who worked at the Anime Jungle shop in Osaka said that it had come through the store at some point, because it was in their POS database, but he had never himself seen a copy in the flesh.

We concluded that with the aid of another friend, a capable translator and DVD author, we could do a quality fansub version. Getting the laserdisc was my job. So I said to a guy I knew in the JET program over outside Tokyo, "Hey, man, can you win me this laserdisc on Jahoo?"

He says, "How much do you want to pay?"

I says, "Get me the laserdisc."

Jahoo at the time employed an interesting feature that prevents the kind of sniping you see on eBay. If a bid came in during the final minutes of the auction, the time limit would be extended to allow for answering bids to come in. Somebody else really wanted that laserdisc. He eventually gave up, but not after a bit of a knock-down-drag-out.

The next morning my friends e-mailed and said, "Did we prevail?" I says, "We prevailed, to the tune of 46,000 yen." That was about $425 in 2003 money.

The resulting DVD version of PEDF was really quite beautiful, and saw limited screenings at several cons. Then ADV got the license after all and I felt pretty silly. But at least I can say I've paid more money for a single laserdisc than just about anyone else, save for the dudes who've shelled out for Daicon Film.

Chris Sobieniak said...

"The direct-to-video format seems perfect for titles like PEDF; the material may not stretch as successfully into a 2-hour feature or a TV season but as a 50 minute OVA you’re left entertained and sad there isn’t more."

Unlike today were it would be stretched out to a 13 episode show and you start getting sick of it halfway.

The Anachronistic Otaku said...

Absolutely love the PEDF OVA. Some really nice fluid animation, especially a particular panning shot with the characters running from a barrage of rockets. Pair that with an excellent soundtrack for quite a memorable experience. It seems I always come back to the end credits, as the characters walk innocently through the streets while a man croons away. A real feel-good moment and a perfect ending to a wonderful OVA.

Steve H. said...

I completely love PEDF. I am shamed to hear a dojin continuation exists and I don't have it.

Yeah, ADV's release is just another of those "WTF?! Why don't you want to make money!" moments where they just shoot themselves in the foot, adjust their aim and shoot the foot again. Sure, it would be of limited interest but dang, advertise the damn thing, keep it in print and maybe it'll do better than you think!

I recall quite a kerfluffle when it was originally thought it was to be a wide release and the sudden, frantic, insane hemming and hawing that it was meant as a ADV site only release, and yet Robert's Anime Corner DID get copies for sale. Which is how Jerry and I got our copies.

I find Baradagi supernaturally hawt. There. I said it.

Kid Fenris said...

PEDF really missed its chance in North America, I think. It would've cleaned house in the late 1990s, when OVAs still made up the bulk of licenses and new fans were passing around short comedies like Dragon Half and Elf Princess Rane. Once the market and the fandom shifted toward longer series, it was harder for those old OVAs to stand out. By then PEDF also looked a little tame when compared to its more obnoxious descendant Excel Saga.

I enjoyed it, of course. I begged ADV for a screener, wrote up a piece for Anime Insider, and then watched it get cut in favor of something on Desert Punk or MAR. I ended up sneaking in a PEDF blurb somewhere. I hope the kids noticed.

Dustin Kopplin said...

Could Discotek "possibly" one day get this. That seems to be the "go to" company that nerds look at as their only hope in getting 'such and such' anime.

And this sounds like something I would enjoy, thanks for sharing Dave. I seem to kinda remember this title in the past few years.

Commander X said...

Such a rush of nostalgia, I find myself pining for those days when you could find OAV's like this - little two and three episoders and delightful one-offs like PEDF.

I was initally skeptical about watching PEDF in the first place, way back when on VHS because some people I talked with had given me the impression PEDF was some sort of justly obscure Odious Abomination Vomit or something - but I was skeptical considering I'd heard good things about it as well, and gosh. The animation is lovely, the humor is zany without being "zany" if you catch my drift, the soundtrack is great and it's honestly a shame more people don't know about it, even now. I lost track of my VHS copy years ago and that made me understandably sad.

Unknown said...

Doug K. got his hands on this OAV right after it was released in Japan. After premiering it at Capricon there were a LOT of anime VHS traders that wanted to get a copy of it ASAP. And of course even without subtitles it had a packed roomful of people rolling in the aisles in the Capricon anime room.

I remember Steve H. pondering whether this might have been a failed TV pilot. Of course we were all wondering if there would ever be a volume 2, but sadly it was not to be. I'd really like to see one of the scanlation groups tackle the manga at some point.

I seem to remember Doug wasn't one of the people who added "High School" to the title, but I think he goofed up the title and spelled it "Perfectual" Earth Defense Force. Not too many anime fans would have known what a prefecture was before the days of Animeigo translation notes.

I shouldn't be surprised when one of the members of "the industry" botches something, but wow. Way to go, ADV. Seriously, when it sold out that quickly you couldn't have ordered up a second pressing? Sheesh.

Dave- thanks for another great article. Since Robert G. disappeared into a Louisiana swamp, your blog is just about the only place I can find stuff that fulfills my need for this type of 80s anime fandom nostalgia.

Pic Cosplays said...

Nice blog post, keep it up bro :)

publius said...

I admit to being an utter rat bastard. I got my DVD copy for free. For reasons totally unknown, ADV handed over one copy to be shown at A-Kon when they released it, & when the staff heads were giving away the "do not return" screeners at the end of the con, I grabbed it.