I have a sneaking suspicion that Yoshiaki Kawajiri really likes John Carpenter movies. Because Demon City Shinjuku could be summed up as an OVA that mixes both Escape from New York and Escape From L.A. (despite being made after this OVA) together, has a little bit of Halloween thrown in there, and some has supernatural elements added for good measure. Good thing I'm a Carpenter fan then, right? In Cyber City Kawajiri lifted the basic premise of criminals having to do complicated missions for the state, with the chance of being pardoned (and with the risk of being blown up if they failed), just like Escape from New York. Here Kawajiri instead takes the idea of having to rescue the President, deep within a city that has long been abandoned by decent people, and now overrun by crazy things, and turns that into an anime, with mixed results.
Demon City Shinjuku is and OVA from 1988, animated by Madhouse studios, and directed by none-other then Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Madhouse and Kawajiri have worked on countless other ultraviolent movies and OVAs over the years, and Urban Vision, CPM, and Manga Entertainment have released many of them here in the US, since he once had a huge following here. This movie-length OVA is very similar to his other works, perhaps too similar for it's own good. Anyway the OVA is about how the evil psychic Rebi Ra, deep within what's left of Shinjuku, Tokyo is attempting to complete a portal to hell. He is also a powerful swordsman, and seems to have sold his soul for all his powers. Once the portal to Hell is opened, demons will take over the entire planet. He must do this, because it is another price he has to pay for gaining all this power. The entire world seems to have become one single government, and it's hinted that the former countries have now become states or provinces, and that includes Japan. The World President is making a trip to Japan, when he ends up being captured by Rebi Ra in an attempt to destabilize the world, and send the world into chaos, and also prevent any counter measures against him. However he does not only kidnap the president, but his aid and spiritual adviser, Master Rai. Master Rai is well aware of who has kidnapped them and left them for dead, it is revealed that Rebi Ra is former student of his. Another student of his headed out to stop Rebi Ra many years earlier but failed and died in the process. Now all of mankind's hope rests with that man's son, a kid named Kyoya. Because only Kyoya and Master Rai have this hidden ability that could defeat Rebi Ra, and Rai must remain near the President's side or he will die and the world may fall into another dark age!
Kyoya gets contacted by Master Rai's spirit, and told he has to fight to save the earth. Kyoya explains that while it's true he learned some skills from his father, he only learned the basics before his father passed away. Master Rai pleads with him to try and save the president and defeat Rebi Ra anyway, because he doesn't, no one will. Kyoya's still not very eager to run off on some quest to save the world, and so he leaves his house and goes out for a walk. This is where he runs into the Presiden't daughter, Sayaka Rama, who tries to convince him to go with her to the city and save her father. He still refuses, and so she decides to try her luck on her own. When she gets there however she is attacked by some criminals hanging around the outskirts of the town, and Kyoya comes out of the shadows and saves her at the last second. Seems he can't let some innocent girl waltz right into the city of hell on her own. The rest of the OVA follows these two on their quest through the city, where they will meet some Escape from New York- esque allies and enemies, and finally save the day.
The main problem with this anime is it's very by-the-book, standard and unoriginal. It's even very predictable at times. It's not a bad story, but it feels like we've seen it before. Now you have to forgive it a little bit, as the OVA probably predates many other shows we've seen that have this kind of plot, but still it's nothing groundbreaking either. That's not to say that this is a bad movie by any stretch, because it's not. It's just the plot is not as strong as it should have been. The best part of the story is the initial premise of people from the outside trying to rescue to President deep within the city, and going through hell to do it. And you know what, I credit Carpenter more for that, then Kawajiri. Still it plays out decently, and many of the Escape from New York characters show up, like your token double crosser and insider who helps the main characters out a bit. And these characters are all quite interesting, although they don't get enough screen time sadly. The main character, Kyoya is actually not that interesting of a person. He's sort of boring and 2 dimensional. He's not a bad character, but probably better fit for a side character, as he's not interesting enough to carry the weight of an entire OVA. His struggle with becoming stronger, and awakening his potential is well done however. Sayaka, the President's daughter is instead a very interesting character, perhaps she should have been the lead. She's not too tough ina fight, but she's a strong willed person, eager to help if she can, and shows that she's scared, but willing to press on despite that. She feels helpless at times, but tries to do whatever she can. She's a very strong character. Her romance with Kyoya towards the end seemed forced, There was no development there, and felt like the only reason they kiss is because she's a girl, and he's a dude. The two have very little chemistry and really don't seem to be hitting it off, so why do they seem to become a couple? Because the movie needs a little romance I guess. Another interesting character is Chibi, a midget (I think?) who helps the two, and gives them pointers and hints about the city. He saves them while they're fighting a monster, and guides them to where they want to go. He's not eager to get invovled with a fight, but he won't leave anyone to die either. He's an intriguing character who probably should have been a more important character. Master Rai is another compelling who doesn't get nearly enough time to develop, but he's very likeable. The themes the movie deals with are nothing special, and sort of generic. While no one would ever go into this film looking for something very deep, it reall doesn't help that the themes of innocents, love, and inner strenght are very generic and tossed around very lightly. Perhaps if they were more explored the OVA would be a bit better.
The fights in Demon City Shinjuku are less frequent then I had imagined. But when they do come up they are very well choreographed, and very fun to watch. The main character has to fight a few demons and monsters as the show goes on, and many others get involved as well. The tone may be a little dark, but it is not at all depressing. While not a light or funny show, it's not overbearing either. Another problem with the show however is its tendency to use expository dialogue. By that I mean characters backstories, the history of the city, and even the plot are revealed through way too much dialogue. Instead of showing us what happened, the characters oddly explain things, and some of these explanations go on way too long. While I would have no problem with one or two of these, four or five in one movie is a bit much. At times when they could have used a flashback or something, they go for the easy way out and have the characters explain things. This, mixed with some sloppy writing at times really hurts the overall show. The final fight scene is also very anticlimactic. I hate to keep criticizing this OVA, as it is a fun watch and I did enjoy it. But I can't leave out these these things either. I guess what I'm saying is despite these problems it's still a good anime.
Production values for this OVA are all over the place. The animation is sometimes as choppy as a bad Yogi Bear episode, while other times everything on screen flows incredibly well. Most of the fight scenes are impressive for 1988 (very fluid motion), but other parts can either look ugly, or pretty depending on the scene. The artwork is a great style, with a very nice color palette. The color palette is dark, but not gloomy, and looks quite nice at times. The character designs are pretty original looking, and very attractive, especially the President's daughter who looks very pretty. However the opening scene, and some scenes deep within the city look very odd, with a dated looking color palette that's very different from the rest of the movie. Everything will have a blue or red tint, and it looks very ugly. This was obviously done to either emphasis how this scene is in the past, or emphasis how close the gateway to hell, is getting to earth, but they just don't work very well at all. The make the OVA look more dated then it otherwise would, since this is a pre-Akira anime after all. But other then that the visuals are quite impressive, and those scenes are quite short. The music is very electronic and unimpressive. While the soundtrack is not exactly bad, it's very generic and mostly forgettable.
The dub on this is pretty good for it's era. While I've heard better from this time, it's not at all bad. This is another one of the older Manga Video UK dubs, directed by Michael Bakewell and with mostly a British and Canadian cast. And most of the actors fit their roles very well. There is a tendency to use accents in this dub, and on the large this works quite well and gives the show a worldly sound. The President and his daughter have British accents, which is very fitting in my opinion as they seem to be Europeans, so this is a great way to emphasis that. Chibi (pronounced "Chippy" by the cast, although I'm not sure why? Perhaps that's a British thing?) has a Mexican accent which sounds a little stereotypical, but it does seem realistic and works for the character. Another character has a Spanish (Spain) accent, and this also comes off very well. Master Rai is played by George Little, and he gives the character a very authentic Indian accent, which fits since not only is his character from India, but very spiritual and he needs an accent to demonstrate this. The rest of the cast, including Brad Lavelle, who plays Kyoya, put on American accents and they seem real. The dub is mostly well acted, with all of the main cast doing a good job for the most part. Sadly it seems every major actor has an awkward line somewhere in this dub, but it's not that bad.
Brad Lavelle fits the lead very well, and has a great chemistry with George Little, specifically in the begining of the OVA. Sayaka, the President's Daughter is played by Teresa Gallagher, who gives the best performance of the dub. She has a very distinct voice, and her different sounding voice fits the character well. She puts on a British accents that some may find a little different then the norm, but she's a native Brit so you can be sure this is authentic, and personally I thought it sounded great. Chibi is played by Alan Sherman, who really fleshes out the character, with his Mexican accent, and adult way of talking. The Japanese dub made him seem more like a child, which I'm pretty sure he's not one. He plays off the two main characters very well. One problem with this however is some of Chibi's lines seem left out. Two or three times in the dub you will see his mouth move, but nothing come out. Switch the Japanese track for a second and you clearly hear dialogue (and it's tranlsated in the subtitles). I wonder what happened here? Some overlook or mistake perhaps? It's nothing major, but it's just very jarring to hear a character answer him when he doesn't say anything in the dub, or him answer someone with silence. Rebi Ra is played by Bob Sessions, and he is the weakest actor of the dub by far. Some of his lines in the opening scene are outright terrible, and really bring down the quality of the dub. By the ending of the anime he's much better, but still not good enough as he should be. While the casting of him as the character works because he fits Rebi Ra, the person casting should have thought about weather or not he could act, because from this my answer is "not really...". It's a good thing he doesn't have many lines. Some of the smaller roles are sort of bad, although no one sounds outright like an amateur. Other smaller roles sound really good, like the children who appear for a small scene, or the old short lady who wants money from the two leads. The script is the real problem of this dub though. At times it's very clumpy, cluttered and rough. At you can really hear the actors tripping over their lines. It's not that the actors are bad, most of them are at least decent, but you can tell the script needed some work. Cursing is frequently used in the dub as well. While I'm never against some good cursing in an anime, and in this OVA the content really does call for it, I must question the times and placement of the curses. Many times a curse just feels oddly placed here or there, and other times it feels like they could have used a curse word but didn't. The dub is sort of odd, and very different sounding. But I find it has more positives then negatives, and I like a lot of things about it. I just wish the script was a little better, then it would be more then enough. As it is it's quite all right, but Bakewell has done better.
Central Park Media has released this many times on VHS and later DVD. I have the 2004 DVD release, which was inlcuded with the Kawajiri Brick Pack which actually is quite nice to look at. The DVD includes an insert, which is a nice little postcard thing, although I like the ones inlcuded in the Birdy the Mighty and A Wind Named Amnesia DVDs a little more. But it's still very cool. I think I like the 2005 release cover artwork a little better then my DVD, but both are nice. The DVD menu however is very ugly, and looks quite cheap. I've made better DVD menus messing around with Media Center on my computer. Besides looking ugly it's also quite slow to load. This is quite a shame becuase it is my opinion that CPM has some of the best DVD menus out there, looking through my collection they have some of my favorites. The extras included are just "meet the cast" type extras. These are there to remind you who these characters are, by showing a small clip from the OVA focusing on them. Cool little extra, but no real content.
So far this is the weakest Kawajiri anime I've seen. But weak Kawajiri, is still pretty good in my book. This is worth seeing a few times, but there are better titles in the genre. I was thinking about my star ratings last night, and felt they were kind of pointless, since I kept giving things 4/4 stars. So now I've thought hard about this, and will be re-doing all the ratings on all my reviews, only this time out of 5 stars. 5 stars not only gives me more room to work with, but allows 5 stars for true masterpieces, and everything else that's really great, but not yet a masterpiece would be 4.5 stars, etc . I think I like 5 stars much more then 4. That being said I'd rate this about a 2.5 out of 5. It's worth watching, don't get me wrong. And if you can find it cheap go out and buy it. But it has a lot of problems. I really wanted to like this more then I did.
2.5 /5 Stars
2.5 /5 Stars