Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Violent World of Ichiro Itano, Part One

Ichiro Itano is probably best remembered as a mechanical animator and action choreographer for the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross, as well as a few of the later films and OVAs. If that isn't impressive enough, Itano also directed the first installment of the classic Megazone 23, as well as providing animation and storyboard work to the later episodes. In the early 2000s, Itano would go on to direct the series adaptation of Hiroya Oku's Gantz, a futuristic tale of teen angst, bloodsports, and aliens. While Gantz is certainly violent, it pales in comparison to the past violent world of Itano and the rise of the wonders of OVA. Itano may be best remembered for his involvement with multiple mecha classics during the 80s, but there was a time when Itano shocked and disturbed audiences, creating some of the most violent and obscure home release anime of the late 80s and early 90s.

Battle Royal Highschool 1987
Why the long pause, AnimEigo? Battle Royal..............High School. Were they so baffled and confused as I was? So dramatic. Or did some dolt work in the art department? Every time I pick up the DVD case I stare at it, baffled. Even the DVD has the odd punctuation emblazoned on it. Such a despicable use of ellipsis, yet it conveys the amount of confusion that ensues once the product at hand.................is watched.

Itano's first foray into the violent and weird world of the OVA was the one-shot adaptation of Shinichi Kuruma's manga, Battle Royal Highschool. BRH plays victim to the common problem in many OVAs: too much material to be covered with too little time. Elf 17, Maps, Bastard!!, and many others have fallen victim to such a sad fate. The ultimate blue balls predicament for the anime superfan, as you're left in the cold, hungry and begging for more. Consequently, BRH is riddled with plot holes, poorly introduced characters (if at all), and a string of loose ends at the finish.

Now, a convoluted plot and the unexplained don't necessarily spell out disaster. Some of the finest tokusatsu productions revel in such absurdities. Pulp fiction in itself wouldn't exist if everything were so fine tuned! If one were to tell me that BRH high school starts with a high school wrestler in a Tiger Mask-inspired leopard mask who happens to fuse with a doppelganger demon from another dimension that must battle evil fairies and possessed high school students, with an equally bizarre subplot(?) of an interdimensional Space-Time police officer and a clearly inspired Demon City Shinjuku-like exorcist with a wooden sword. Throw in the obligatory cute high school anime babe and a scene with a giant evil teddy bear and you have the ingredients for what should be the perfect one-shot OVA. Sadly, BRH only does about half of this right. The inspiration and material is certainly there, yet time seems to be the major constraint, resulting in a 50 minute mess of unfulfilled desires and meager bits of action and violence. Just enough to whet your appetite.

Still, if anything BRH seems like a training lesson for Itano, sort of a precursor to the mastery of animated violence and debauchery to come. Battle Royal Highschool has a good chunk of carnage and depravity with some interesting demonic mutations and high school girl exploitation, yet it remains fairly tame in comparison with the chunk of material that manifested in the some of the more infamous OVAs of the 80s. The aforementioned AnimeEigo DVD is currently long out of print, and for being such an odd title, it's beginning to fetch some questionable prices and scarce appearances in the aftermarket, resulting in the inevitable fade into obscurity. You'd be best to invest your money on something like Baoh or Yotoden if you're planning on buying a relatively rare R1 OVA DVD of quality.

Up next, part two: Violence Jack 2: Evil Town!

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