Review for Mecha Masters
What was I thinking? Sometimes my common sense fails me, and I do something wholly irrational and stupid, like buying this DVD collection. I know what motivated it, Genocyber. Way back when I first was an anime fan, and was filling up my shelves with VHS tapes (didn’t take long), I got the Cyperpunk Collection from Manga Entertainment, containing AD Police, Cyber City Oedo 808, and Genocyber, with the latter the unwanted puppy of the set. When it came to the DVD age, I set about upgrading my favourite shows, and AD Police was easy, while Cyber City Oedo 808 took a little importing. All that was left was Genocyber, in which I had little interest. Then a few years ago, I saw this Mecha Masters Collection on clearance on a US site and it had Genocyber as well as two other titles, plus extras, for less than ten dollars. Before I knew what had come over me, I’d clicked buy, and then like an idiot threw something else in, which took the whole thing over the customs limit and hit me with import duty on top. Not as much of a bargain as I first thought.
Mecha Masters contains MD Geist, a show that’s notorious among anime fans for its innate badness. It’s the kind of show that parents threaten their children with if they don’t behave, and the kids listen. It’s an anime comparator. “This latest fan service, tentacle wannabe hentai otaku fan-bait fantasy from Japan really stank up the house!”, “Yeah, but it’s no MD Geist!” I already knew Genocyber was poor, having seen the first three episodes from Manga Video back in the day. It was so bad that they never bothered releasing the final two episodes, which are in this US collection. That leaves Cybernetics Guardian, for which I don’t have a lot of hope. You have to wonder what went through the minds of the people at Central Park Media when they put this collection together. They must have gone through their catalogue and noticed that they had three shows from the same director, Koichi Ohata, and decided to bundle them together in one cyberpunk exploitation boxset. It’s like releasing an Uwe Boll collection! But the thing is they put some effort into this. The packaging is pretty nice in terms of artwork, if only thin card, you get three anime shows on three DVDs, with extra features, both for your player and for DVD-ROM, and there are two CDs, the first MD Geist soundtrack CD, and the first Genocyber soundtrack CD, and on top of all that, there is a bonus DVD of content as well. These shows may be crap, but it’s obviously well-loved crap, given the kind of care and attention that the best anime released today rarely gets. Anyway, after 2½ years of dreading the moment, I’ve bitten the bullet and decided to review it. Don’t worry. It’s out of print; you won’t make the same mistake I did.
A thin card artbox houses four Amaray cases. MD Geist has the bonus disc with the feature disc in one case, Genocyber and Cybernetics Guardian come on one disc each in two cases, and two soundtrack CDs are in the fourth case. All the DVDs are coded Region Free.
Introduction: Cybernetics Guardian
Cybernetics Guardian was Koichi Ohata’s directorial debut back in 1989, and this is just the sort of anime I would have lapped up back then, sex, violence, gore, cyborgs, and supernatural demons. Let’s face it, this was the era of Manga Video, and there wasn’t a lot of choice in terms of anime. It was also easy to see just what inspired these OVAs, as they often wore their influences on their sleeves. You’ll be put in mind of Robocop and Robocop 2 when you watch Cybernetics Guardian.
For in this future utopia of Cyber-wood, there remains the slum called Cancer, and it needs the right kind of Guardian to go in there to clean out the mess. That’s where Leyla’s project comes in. The utopia of 2019 has come on the back of the mineral Astenite, discovered 20 years earlier, which can be used to harness a person’s psychic energy, and has already revolutionised medicine. Leyla has now used this technology to create a cyber-suit, and John Stalker has volunteered to test it, the ultimate in safe policing. But Leyla’s rival Adler isn’t having any of this, he has his own cyber-suit to sell, and the test is sabotaged, the suit destroyed, with John barely surviving. But Astenite isn’t just a mineral, and there is a faction looking to change the world, and have been invoking dark mystical rituals in order to do so. Which is when John Stalker turns into a cybernetic supernatural beast and goes on the rampage...
Picture: Cybernetics Guardian
This is a disc from 1999... Let that sink in before you consider the quality of the 4:3 NTSC transfer. It isn’t great, very obviously from a video source, and during the first few minutes displaying more than a few encoding artefacts, rainbowing, strobing between frames and the like. It settles down quickly enough into a soft, but relatively clear transfer, adequate in reproducing the detail, but suffering in the darker scenes where it all becomes indistinct. The animation isn’t too hot either, with line art detail minimal, character designs simple and unmemorable, and the animation not really that animated, relying on panning over static images a little too often. The gore is pretty tame too, compared to something like Genocyber, and when heads start being popped off like corks, it’s more inadvertently funny than anything else.
Sound: Cybernetics Guardian
You have the choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with a sole English subtitle track, taken from an early dub script. The Japanese is a little dull and muddy, but generally free of hiss and other tape glitches. The dialogue is clear throughout, although stereo effects are minimal, the action pretty unrepresentative of what happens on screen, and it all sounds quite mono. The music is quite nice, one piece even sounds familiar from AD Police. The dub is nearly twenty years old now, which should give you some idea of what to expect.
Extras: Cybernetics Guardian
This is the lightest of the discs when it comes to extras. It’s presented in an Amaray case, where the reverse of the sleeve offers some production notes and other pertinent info.
On the disc you’ll find two text pages, one profiling the director, one listing the English and Japanese casts. The original Japanese trailer for the show is there, and there are further CPM trailers for Darkside Blues, Grappler Baki, Guardian of Darkness Takegami: War God, Demon City Shinjuku, and Wrath of the Ninja.
The DVD ROM features on the disc offer storyboards, Character designs, Concept Designs, and the Script, and more, but it’s all optimised for old VGA displays, and probably won’t be legible on modern, higher resolution screens.
Conclusion: Cybernetics Guardian
I exaggerated about the sex, although there is a guy with a pair of cybernetic X-Ray specs that get used once. Cybernetics Guardian is the kind of OVA that I’d find on the old Manga Videos that found their way into a bargain bin, something cheap, cheerful, exploitative, gory, and sweary, but not really that entertaining to those of a sober disposition. Since at that age my evening diet consisted of lager and kebabs, I was more predisposed to shows like this, where I could cheer at the violence, and laugh at the ridiculous dub.
I need more than that now. I need story, characters, a decent narrative. What you get with Cybernetics Guardian is pretty much in the synopsis, although not nearly as coherent. You have the battle suit test going wrong, two rival scientists and the hapless test subject caught in the middle. Leyla is the weepy damsel, Adler is the evil villain, and John is the bland personality free zone that goes on a rampage before being cured for the love of a woman. Throw in some weird, dark cultists, and an idiotic cop investigating the whole thing, and offer no meaning, no back-story, no depth whatsoever, although in 45 minutes, there’s not a lot of room for that.
It’s all about the gore and the violence, although the quality of the animation is such that you can’t really take it seriously. It could have been an interesting story, an interesting world if it had the development, and the room to flesh out its world and characters. Koichi Ohata didn’t have it for this show, but he would have it for Genocyber, five episodes worth...
This is the reason that I bought this set, a lingering need to upgrade my least loved but still occasionally watched anime VHS tape. Genocyber is very much a show of its time, the kind of anime that simply won’t be made today, the kind of show that is nasty for the sake of it. Back when I first saw it, it was more a rite of passage than a piece of entertainment, a challenge to see what a viewer could handle, the next step up from Angel Cop. Of course then Urotsukidoji came along and ended the game, but you could say that Genocyber was the last rung on the ladder where you could say there was some substance and thoughtfulness to go with the anime exploitation. Manga Video in the UK licensed and dubbed the first three parts, but never bothered releasing the final two. That was left to CPM to complete, and they commissioned a dub for those final two parts. Let’s just say that even the most avid dub addict, subtitle hater, will be switching to Japanese for the last two parts.
Part 1: A New Life Form
14 years after a devastating explosion wrecked the Morgan labs, killing the chief scientist, and wrecking the experiment to harness Vajra psychic energy, Morgan’s former assistant Kenneth is continuing the experiments, using his own daughters as subjects. In a world where the governments are about to come to a global peace treaty, and end all warfare, it’s the corporations that plan on keeping the armies supplied with arms, and it’s the corporations that present the greatest threat to world peace. One of those corporations is funding the attempt to create a Vajra weapon, but Kenneth has a problem, his most promising test subject, daughter Elaine has run off, and is hiding in Hong Kong. He sets his other daughter Diana, born without the use of her limbs but subsequently given a cyborg body, to find and recover the feral Elaine. But the corporation has set other cyborgs after Elaine, while in Hong Kong, Elaine is making friends but learning of the dark side of humanity. Diana’s jealousy of her sister will lead to disaster, especially when the truth about the sisters’ past is revealed to her.
Part 2: Vajranoid Attack
Part 3: Global War
The Genocyber that was formed when Diana and Elaine fused, has in its rest form Elaine’s face with Diana’s cyborg body, but it still has Elaine’s innate feral childlike wonder. It’s why when this second story starts that we find her in the Kingdom of Karain, playing with a group of children. And then the helicopters gunships arrive and brutally slaughter her friends. The response of the Genocyber is immediate and devastating. In Japan, the Kuryu Corporation learn of the Genocyber’s existence, and co-opt the US Navy carrier Alexandria to recover the living weapon. But they also supply some of their own personnel, including Dr Sakomizu, who’s eager to test his own Vajranoid living weapon, it too derived from Dr Morgan’s research. When a recon plane rescues a little mute cyborg girl from Karain, a girl that a nurse and grieving mother aboard the carrier dubs Laura, they have no idea that they’ve brought the Genocyber aboard, and when the Vajranoid awakes, all hell will break loose.
Part 4: The Legend of Ark de Grande I
Part 5: The Legend of Ark de Grande II
Hundreds of years have passed and human civilisation, which fell in the final battle against the Genocyber, has now begun to claw its way back from the brink. The City of Ark de Grande is the shining beacon of hope for humanity, at least that’s what Ryu and Mel believe when they arrive, hoping to find a cure for Mel’s blindness. But beneath Ark de Grande’s shining towers beats the same dark, corrupt heart that initially caused the collapse of civilisation. Its Mayor Grisom runs the place as a despot, clamping down on any rebellious murmurings with lethal intent, while the elite of the city wallow in decadence and depravity. And in the bowels of the city, among the ruins of the old world, a new religion has sprung up worshipping the divine angel that destroyed the decayed old civilisation, centred on a fragmented statue that looks rather familiar. And when the telepathic Mel finds her way into the underworld, she learns that it’s no statue.
Genocyber gets a 4:3 regular transfer which is a step up from Cybernetics Guardian, both technically and artistically. This OVA series was made in 1993, and while it’s obviously from a tape source, the transfer itself is clear and sharp, with strong colours, and with no significant artefacting or compression. The line art is clear throughout, and detail levels are good, while the character designs are what you would expect from the period. The mecha designs are excellent, particularly the Genocyber, while the world designs have a decent level of complexity to them. The first episode even mixes things up with some ‘live action’ footage to give the gore scenes some added squelch, as well as some early 3D CGI to enhance certain moments. It’s interesting to note that Kenji Kamiyama, who would later go on to direct Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Eden of the East served as Art Director on Genocyber, and it does show in the aesthetic quality, if not the quality of the story.
You have the choice between Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional English subtitles. The Japanese is the way to go here, simply for the sake of consistency across all of the episodes. There’s certainly a nostalgia buzz for the Manga Video dub in episodes 1-3, with its crazy profanity and occasionally fake accents, but it all goes to pot with the final two episodes, as CPM commissioned the dub for those, with just a token effort put into the performances, and no attempt to match the Manga dub in terms of casting or style. Genocyber has some surprisingly good music to it, albeit very much electronic synth music, but it certainly makes the soundtrack CD in the collection worth listening to.
This time the reverse of the Amaray sleeve has the chapter listing and the director’s bio. It all plays as one big movie on the disc, and while the chapters allow you to find the start of each new episode, it would have been more convenient to select each episode separately from the main menu. The disc boots up to an animated menu.
On the disc, you’ll find a pointless Meet the Cast option, which merely plays short clips of the characters from the show.
Soundtracks offers short clips to showcase the music for the Genocyber 1 and 2 CDs, as well as the MD Geist, and MD Geist II CDs.
There are also trailers for Darkside Blues, Legend of Lemnear, Cybernetics Guardian, Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie, and Record of Lodoss Wars: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight.
The DVD-ROM content offers a screenshot gallery, a model gallery, storyboards, cast listing, and design gallery, although the weblinks are long dead.
This is where nostalgia overwhelms my common sense, as I can’t help viewing Genocyber through the eyes of the gore-hound adolescent that I was when I first saw it, even after all these years. That’s telling in how I take in the series, loving the first part after a fashion, cool with the next two parts, but then suddenly thinking that the series takes a nosedive into mediocrity with the final two episodes, episodes which to this point I had never seen before, and for which I had never developed any nostalgic affection.
Genocyber is first and foremost about the blood, gore and exploitative violence, and it does it as well as 20th Century cel animation could manage; a little better in the first episode given that it creatively mixed in live action elements to its animation to give the violence a more visceral feel. The second story didn’t do that, but it upped the ante by opting to break the taboo of killing children on screen, and in as gruesome a way as possible. Entertainment doesn’t do that. Adults can be blown away left, right and centre, in as bloody and imaginative a way as special effects and prosthetics can allow, but not kids. I can remember what a shock it was to see Hob get killed in Robocop 2. Here it ensures that Genocyber isn’t for everyone. But for the final story, the violence is actually toned down in terms of its bloodthirsty nature, it becomes random death from a distance, rather than up close and personal.
That first episode does have something going on under the gore, with its tale of a world on the verge of peace, with the corporations resorting to waging war where governments now refuse to. It has messages about the exploitation of children, and the innate violent nature of humanity. It tells its story in a way that suggests complexity, and gives you something to think about. Not so much the second story, which has a very simple and obvious message; war is stupid. The message of the final story, such as it is, is simpler still; people are stupid, and I better stop before I start quoting Culture Club lyrics.
I had hoped that the five episode run would proffer Koichi Ohata the space and time to develop a story and characters, but really, this is just three, loosely linked OVA stories, and there’s just as much development going on as in Cybernetics Guardian. That there is more thought and consideration behind the stories, particularly the first one, makes Genocyber worthy of attention, but ultimately the series is unfulfilling and in the end, unchallenging too.
Introduction: MD Geist
So here we are, the main event of the collection. Reputedly the owner of Central Park Media loved this OVA so much that the title character in battlesuit became the company logo. In fact there was so much love for the 1986 OVA, that CPM funded a director’s cut, which is what you get on this disc, which allowed Koichi Ohata to fix some ropy animation in the original, and add five minutes of new footage which would lead into the M.D. Geist II sequel, also on this disc, and itself also part funded by CPM. Such is the extent of one man’s love for this show that the disc won an award for its authoring, with the level of content and extra goodness for fans of its particular niche. And it’s reputedly one of the worst anime ever made.
M.D. Geist Director’s Cut
Mankind spread across the stars, but they took their wars with them. The NEXRUM want to rule the galaxy, but for independent worlds like Jerra, they’d rather stand and fight the tyranny. For their war, they created the Most Dangerous soldiers, bioengineered warriors to fight the technological might of NEXRUM, soldiers who could shrug off a bullet to the brain pan. Geist was one of these creations, only he was too good at killing, enjoyed the violence a little too much. So it was that he was locked away in an orbiting prison, put on ice. Years later, his captivity ends when the ship crashes back to Jerra, now an apocalyptic wasteland where the few native warriors still fight against NEXRUM, with the occasional biker gang picking off the scraps from both sides. All Geist wants to do is to pick up where he left off. But the end for Jerra may be coming sooner than anyone thinks. The recent assassination of the Jerra president activated a doomsday weapon, and if it isn’t stopped, millions of bloodthirsty mechs will be loosed on the planet.
M.D. Geist II
The Death Force mechs are laying waste to what remains of Jerra, intent on wiping out all life. But there is one bastion of humanity still standing, a city where the survivors gather to rebuild and fight back. Its leader is one M.D. Krauser. Another Most Dangerous Soldier has survived. But with M.D. Geist and M.D. Krauser on the same planet, there’s not enough room for the both of them...
Picture: MD Geist
M.D. Geist gets a 4:3 transfer, which is as you would expect from an anime of the period, betraying its videotape roots, but otherwise solid, stable, and with consistent, if slightly faded colours. The first half, the Director’s Cut offers the strongest of the animation, most of it redone for the DC, with the original animation’s poor quality standing out in contrast. The sequel is really dire in terms of the animation, most of it accomplished by panning across static scenes, and very little actual animation to it. It’s little more than a slideshow.
Sound: MD Geist
You have the choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional subtitles. It’s the worst of both worlds really, a forgettable English dub, and an original Japanese dub with lacklustre performances, particularly for the title character in both languages. They’re trying to capture a Clint Eastwood understated menace, but all that either language voice actor succeeds at is sounding dull and bored. The music is quite good though.
Extras: MD Geist
M.D. Geist loads up with an animated menu. On the disc, you’ll find trailers for Project A-Ko, Harmagedon, Legend of Himeko, The Ping Pong Club, and Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Black Rose Saga.
There’s a wodge load of extras on this disc, with a subtitled audio commentary from director Koichi Ohata, accessible from the audio set-up page. You can also access an alternate angle Graphic Novel of M.D. Geist played against the audio from the first OVA. It’s a nice, motion comic style extra.
There are 10 minutes worth of storyboards on the disc, a 1:13 AMV music video, a 3:15 art gallery slideshow, a Geist Rider Scrapbook (a loosely connected slideshow featurette about a Harley Davidson), the trailer for the OVA and a trailer for the Big Apple Anime Fest.
Stick the disc in a PC or Mac, and you’ll be able to access some DVD-ROM extras (although the software is outdated and optimised for lower resolution screens), including script, cast lists, storyboard, production credits, comics, art galleries, mp3 samples of the sequel CD soundtrack, and more.
And there’s the bonus Koichi Ohata disc, which offers a voiceover retrospective of his work, as well as a text interview, and further extras for all three OVAs. The biggest is the MD Geist II Death Force Storyboards, which has the OVA sequel playing in a small window on screen for its 47:16 run time, against the pencil sketch storyboards. There are 4 Geist Gallery slideshows running to 16 minutes, a promo for the MD Geist II CD soundtrack, and a look at the official MD Geist statue.
The Genocyber Extras offer 5 gallery slideshows, and a promo for the Genocyber II CD soundtrack. The Cybernetics Guardian Extras offer more art galleries. There are trailers on this disc for Now and Then, Here and There, Patlabor The TV Series, Labyrinth of Flames, Geobreeders: Breakthrough, and Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Black Rose Blooms. There’s also a wodge load of more stuff accessible via DVD-ROM.
And it’s all packaged in an Amaray with a sleeve containing chapter listing and production notes on the inside.
Conclusion: MD Geist
I was expecting the worst from M.D. Geist, after all, its reputation precedes it by a long way, like the stench of a dustbin lorry on collection day. I thought I knew what I was getting into with this show. I was wrong. It’s worse. It’s really just a collection of violent scenes, loosely connected by a plot, poorly directed, and really just there for exploitative value. The thing is, anime, particularly anime from the 1980s isn’t the ideal medium to show blood and gore and extreme violence. You might have guts spilling out, heads being crushed, people torn limb from limb, but it doesn’t have the requisite impact in bright primary colours and in 2D, certainly not without context, character and a decent story, all of which M.D. Geist lacks.
It’s a show made by someone who fell in love with all the extreme violence and post-apocalyptic movies of the eighties, the kind of movies that I love, usually starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but also extending to films like The Mad Max trilogy, Damnation Alley and countless other staples of the eighties. But Ohata misses the point of those movies. They were always played tongue in cheek, with a wink to the audience. There was a complicit and tacit agreement that none of this was supposed to be taken seriously, it was just fun. M.D. Geist isn’t fun. It’s played completely straight, with no irony whatsoever. These films were supposed to star anti-heroes. Geist is a villain, whose sole purpose in life is to kill as much as possible. And he’s who we have to root for,
And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, M.D Geist II shows up, which ditches the production values, and what little thought there was in the original anime for just an inane, uber-violent, waste of time. You want to see this kind of character done right? Watch Riding Bean...
There’s no redeeming value to M.D. Geist at all. It is the worst thing in this collection. If I’m giving it a mark, it’s for the extra features and them alone. Otherwise this disc is a coaster.
There are two soundtrack CDs with this collection, one for M.D. Geist and one for Genocyber. All I can say is that the music is just too good for these shows, and you might be tempted to ditch the rest and just keep the CDs. I’m biased, and probably my vision is clouded by nostalgia when I say that Genocyber is the only worthwhile disc in this collection. I have a soft spot for the Manga Video release, true, but it also has interesting characters, and an interesting story, even if the initially promising execution fades into incoherence by the final instalment. The rest is ultimately forgettable. Anyway Koichi Ohata managed to find another exploitation niche that garnered a whole lot more success for him. He went on to direct the Ikki Tousen franchise...