Monday, July 20, 2020

Scoopers Redux

One of the great things about anime blogging is that I can take a column I wrote way back at the start of Let's Anime and basically rebuild it from scratch. That's what I'm doing here, dusting off an old column that had broken links, sentence fragments and dead image files and giving it new life for a new era of talking about old cartoons. Enjoy! 

Can intrepid journalists outwit gangsters, corrupt politicos, android monsters, and an evil genius with a destructive master plan? That's the story of Scoopers, an original Japanese anime video released in December 1987 on both the VHS and VHD formats. Best known for boasting an original story and character designs by Monkey "Lupin III" Punch, our titular Scoopers are Yoko, a 22nd century reporter for Shambala City's Private Eyes Magazine - yes, they still have magazines, newspapers, and corded telephones in the 22nd century - and her cameraman partner Beat who is, by the way, an android. Sometimes Beat is a typical sassy, leering, gropey Monkey Punch character, and sometimes Yoko takes out her remote control and Beat is no longer in charge of Beat, which puts their relationship in a weirdly nonconsensual light. Anyway, the mysterious Mister X has been blowing up space shuttles and murdering anyone who dares to reveal his secrets and Yoko and Beat are on the beat tracking him down. Before he's murdered by goons in powered exo-suits, their informant clues the Scoopers into investigating Technoland, a futuristic amusement park Mister X runs as a sideline when he's not trying to take over the world. So basically what we're dealing with here is Westworld crossed with The Terminator and a little bit of Tron thrown in, as executed by Generic Japanese Animation Studio Of The 1980s, namely ACC, who's worked on everything from Hellsing to One Piece

Scoopers creator Kazuhiko Katō, aka Monkey Punch, passed away in 2019 (and doesn't that seem like a million years ago?) and is famed for creating Lupin III, which is understandable considering the, let's see, five decades of anime and manga success the character has enjoyed around the world. 

Monkey Punch's Ginza Whirlwind & Time Agent
But Katō, a protean creator, never rested on his laurels, letting his Mort Drucker-inspired style lend itself to works as varied as Gun Hustler, Playboy School, The Ginza Whirlwind Child, Mysterious Jaguarman, Time Agent, Transparent Gentleman, the personality-switching future detective comedy Cinderella Boy, the almost-anime Space Adventure Team Mechadventure, and TMS's early 90s international rescue team Saver Kids. Like Saver Kids, Scoopers was written for animation without a preliminary manga stage, therefore becoming peak bubble-era anime; bright colors, 80s fashions, big office buildings, and clunky robot-suited henchmen adventure for the rental markets of Tsutaya Video.

let's go on a space mechadventure
A scoop of extra 80s Scoopers cheese is provided by a completely inept sequence involving "cyberspace" as our heroes go "inside the computer" which where everything is rendered as "wireframes" and animated by "cheap video effects". Think of the kind of instantly dated, late night informercial kitsch Video Toaster effects as seen on MTV videos and "Captain Power", that's what we're talking about here. Admittedly, the spectacle of the floating, rotating, sometimes snowflake-embedded head of Mister X is admittedly entertaining, in a Zardoz kind of way.

quote cyberspace unquote
Mister X is the kind of evil genius who wears a giant puffy half-face mask that reveals his giant mustache. He sports an enormous overcoat with a collar the size of a manhole cover. This ensemble is accentuated with gigantic medals and epaulets. Since all his henchmen are robots, one wonders why he bothers to wear anything more than a T-shirt, but who cares? It's the 80s! Anyway, it's not as if Mister X's true identity is of any importance - Scoopers never gives us a big unmasking scene. Mister X isn't really Old Man Johnson in disguise, there's no reason for him to even wear a mask. 

please scream inside your hearts
A forgettable Casio keyboard soundtrack and off-the-shelf character designs featuring a remarkable array of balding middle-aged men make Scoopers a perfect example of what Japanese cartoons looked like in the late 1980s - all shiny cities, high-tech robot weapons, aviator shades, and phone booths. Nothing dates a SF cartoon like phone booths. There are a few bloody killings and some bare-breasted killer android monster Valkyries to remind viewers that this isn't some kiddy cartoon, this is serious entertainment for mature adults who want to sit down and relax with this mature adult tale of android cameramen battling android beast women on super rollercoasters of the future. I do kind of like the cleaned up character design of Beat and Yoko - they look recognizably like Monkey Punch characters while at the same time avoiding any resemblance to Lupin or Fujiko, and that's a tough needle to thread right there. 

Scoopers was pitched to the export market via the infamous "GAGA Communications" pilot reel - you know, the one that retitled Project A-Ko as "Super Nova" and Bubblegum Crisis as "Futurescape." A-Ko and BGC eventually found their way to America, but nobody bit on Scoopers, which is not surprising. If you owned JVC's VHD player and their Scoopers VHD release, you could enjoy Yoko and Beat's adventures in 3D courtesy the VHD's LCS glasses. Does this experience improve what's basically a forgettable, less than essential 1980s anime OVA? We may never know.

-Dave Merrill