Saturday, 21 May 2011

M.D. Geist (original)

You might be wondering why I have chosen to write a separate M.D. Geist review, when already I have written an article that talks quite thoroughly about the entire series. I didn't really review anything, and for a while I've wanted to. If you really want information on this title, go check out my other article, as this is going to be a straight-up review of the untouched 1986 version, warts and all.

Our story begins with a text crawl stating that the "Christian Era" (AKA Anno Domini) has come to a close,  additionally, humans have taken over many planets, but political unrest is still alive, especially on the planet Jerra. It's comforting to know such thought has been weaved into this story already, but let's stop for a moment and skip ahead; M.D. Geist is a 40-minute one-off OVA in which setting and scope has had to be compressed to allow some of the more exploitative elements run freely. Given that, the thin plot is almost entirely acceptable, but let's move on.

The title opens to a bombed-out road literally strewn with skeletons, much like in The Terminator. An aircraft patrols overhead, later revealed to be part of the Nexrum forces, its crew are a bit nervous about the next battle. Suddenly though, a grappling hook attaches itself to the hull of the aircraft, and the pilots find they have an unexpected visitor hanging on. It is of course, Geist, who hurls himself up to the cockpit (funny thing is they make mention about the area being haunted with ghosts, and all of a sudden a man with the German word for ghost as his name pops up to say 'boo' with a rocket launcher). Yes, Geist, grinning, fires a rocket into the cockpit, decapitating one of the pilots (actually his face is probably just being consumed by the blast, but isn't it funny to think of a rocket taking someone's head off?) as it shoots through the ship, blowing up a load of passengers and then he starts blazing bullets into the falling wreckage! Did he really have three guns in one or is it just bad continuity? The reality is something most people miss, and it's that Geist had the rocket launcher on his back all along, it's just seen too briefly, the machinegun also had a grappling hook attachment. The ship starts blowing up and descends while Geist falls freely through the air, the ship eventually becoming engulfed in fire as it crashes. Walking out of the flames is of course, Geist, but with a bullet wound in his head. Either he's just that invincible or he used some sort of make-up. What has to be noted here is the close-up of him is quite obviously just an animator sliding a cel of him up and down until his expression changes, oh dear.

As Geist grins at the camera, synth music and some guitar begins to kick in, as a fairly stiffly-written English display reveals that Geist is a super soldier as created in a genetics experiment, and even though the whole purpose was that he was meant to have extraordinary fighting ability and to be the most dangerous, he was just more hardcore than all the other soldiers and had to be imprisoned in an orbital satellite. This opening is written better than most Engrish eccentricities in anime, but still comes off as a little silly. For whatever reason (probably because of Jerra's undoubtedly eroded atmosphere), Geist's satellite is falling to the surface after the many years he's been away, all the while the awesome Hironobu Kageyama song "Merciless Soldier" plays in the background, its lyrics summing up Geist fairly well. What an entrance this guy has gotten so far; first blowing the shit out of a plane in the most insane way possible, and then by us being shown to his naked ass.

Cutting from that is a biker gang cruelly chasing down an armoured soldier and firing chained spikes through him, before their leader, a huge, nameless Barry White-lookalike hurls a spear through his throat. By the leader's side is his honey Vaiya, but we'll see differently in a minute. The gang want the dead soldier's armour, but stepping out of the blue to claim ownership like any predatory beast, is Geist, who has probably already killed someone to get his clothes. The big boss of the gang offers to let him in or let Geist beat him in a fight. In a single move, Geist slices off both of the guy's hands before shoving the knife into his opponent's skull, he even has enough energy left him to spit out a shocked "you bastard!" before falling down (I actually really like the small details here, such as how the boss [who is actually called Golem according to the comics] is so stiffened with shock that his upper body doesn't move as he falls on his knees, I genuinely mean that too).
Geist helps himself to the armour, only to catch the attention of Vaiya, who offers him a place to stay; yes, she has no time to mourn for the loss of a companion and instead kicks him in the head, she's all about electing the new tough bastard as leader. Geist is swayed by how she has contacts with both sides of the army (the other side being the Regular Army, that Geist was part of), but it's probably obvious that his leadership of the gang is the last thing he gives a damn for. Later at night, the rest of the gang don't like the guy at all, for Vaiya it's different, as she tries to bed him. Interestingly enough, it's quite evident that Vaiya does not see attachment through feelings and more through physical strength, so with Geist's sheer invulnerability, she can't resist herself. This is seen throughout, and in particular a bit more in the Director's Cut, I actually do consider it a good character point and that it reflects Jerra's current social standards among the hoodlums who have no restrictions and just need to stay alive. Despite her attempts to arouse him, Geist has gotten what he's needed out of her, and promptly hurls her off the bed.

Moving onward, Geist is now clean-shaven with freshly cut hair, but looking badass as usual. A massive Regular Army landtank is under fire from Nexrum mechs and Vaiya's plan is to help out either side in hopes of them receiving some money, so it looks like there is at least still a surviving economy on Jerra. Vaiya thinks Geist should go side with the Nexrum's new machinery, but he thinks they can get more out of helping the weaker party, and opts to aid the Regular Army tank. Heading the tank is Col. Krutes who is trying to fight off the enemy machines that are clinging to his ship and ripping it apart. Geist zooms past on his motorbike and shoots down a few of the Nexrum mechs, and just as he passes Krutes' turret, the old colonel seems to recognise Geist immediately, particularly by spotting his dog tag. After knocking a female biker off her bike for no reason, Geist pretty much abuses all the other gangmembers to see to it that the Nexrum machines are destroyed, be it with spears being thrust their cockpits or by breaking in and stabbing the pilots with knives that have grenades attached to them. It's crazy, gory and the music is awesome.

Krutes invites Geist and Vaiya on board to thank them, but refuses to give them any money, which is only a blow to Vaiya as Geist couldn't care less. Krutes actually doesn't want Geist helping them as he tells his men about the MDSes, a.k.a., the Most Dangerous Soldiers, and that they were just too much to handle. Regardless, the men see Geist as a massive boon to them and Krutes has no choice but to bring him on to the mission. In a fairly strange sequence, Krutes explains that the men must invade a complex they apparently built to shut down a doomsday programme that has initiated thanks to the assassination of a president on Jerra; with this, I can only assume the complex (unforgettably known as the Brain Palace, sorta like a mangled translation of "headquarters" to me) went into total lockdown mode and wanted to ensure that no one could stop it. The doomsday weapon is Final Program D: DEATH FORCE.

In all honesty, as much as I love M.D. Geist, it feels like it falls apart a little at this point, but then again it's just trying to be an entertaining 40-minute OVA, my problem is that even for its own standards, things start slipping apart and continuity goes to shreds. Geist seems to have fully customized and gained new parts for the armour he took off the dead soldier so it looks nothing like it did previously (and looks like one of the coolest suits of armour ever), and the battle at Brain Palace is just an excuse to make quick use of his weapons, as his polearm promptly disappears after one use and he only ever uses the grenade launcher on his rifle, sticking mainly to his rocket launcher. Then again, it's most likely things were just cramped in the running time so they had to be used, that, and all those weapons like the polearm may have caused a problem for Geist. I can't fully complain though, it's an entertaining sequence with kick-ass music and Geist in his armour is so cool, it's just a shame he never got to do more with some of his weapons.

Krutes' men all die in the battle, and in a bizarre exchange between him and Geist (it's perhaps the subtitles), Krutes claims that "they're all dead! Again!", is the "again" meant to allude to something from the past? Anyway, Krutes reveals that he set up Geist up and pits him against an unstoppable robot while he goes off to be the hero, it's an interesting fight scene as the robot goes through three phases like the Final Boss of a game, and all of its forms are nicely designed. Geist defeats the last form of ripping off the power cables to his suit's engine and burying them into the robot's circuits, causing it to explode. Krutes shuts off the countdown in time, and is the big hero, he is even greeted by the smouldering, trembling robot he used against against Geist, only for it to fall over and reveal... Geist! Suspenseful this title is not. Geist crushes Krutes' face and is embraced by Vaiya, but as most people might already know thanks to the Internet, he re-activates the countdown, just to see the world burn. I have to admit, this ending is handled a little nicely, it's fun hearing the alarm sound as Geist's eyes twitch scarily when the announcement is made that the Death Force robots are being released.

Okay, I've discussed most of what I liked about the entire M.D. Geist series in my other article, so I'll just talk about the flaws with this one; the biggest of its problems is that it's obviously a woefully low-budget production, with very little revision to certain areas of animation. Some pieces are even recycled more than once. It also doesn't help that this was director Koichi Ohata's first ever feature, who was only 23 at the time and was a mechanical designer, not a director. This original episode was released with director credit being paid to Hayato Ikeda, who was apparently brought in just to assist Ohata, and that the company behind it didn't want to look bad. To me, Ikeda may as well have been a pseudonym, as he had done no work previously and he has never worked after, so it can only be assumed that he was just someone with a smidge more directorial knowledge than Ohata. There's actually a fair amount of background detail in some scenes and the animation is not too bad, though it does get ugly at a few parts.

For the record, I don't view anime any different from how I view other entertainment mediums, so I have no subconscious need to rate this one lowly just because the rest of anime is "high art", it really isn't at all. 
Amidst his fledgling ability and lack of refinement, Ohata's apparent aim at the time was to create the antithesis of typical anime, and it would appear that he's succeeded; Geist is stoic and designed to kill, thrown into the role of protagonist while being incapable of caring for anyone, therefore rejecting the token damsel and dooming the world. Vaiya is a jackal and Krutes is just barely holding together a failing platoon at the end of the world. No one is sweet and innocent; Geist kills because he was made to, Vaiya exploits and Krutes is part of the reason why Jerra is in such a mess. It's egotistical to the character and Geist's antithetical behaviour of typical heroes is celebrated; when the ending kicks in, the Kageyama song "Violence of the Flame" pretty much glorifies his beligerant style, contrasting to what should be dark. Vomited back into a nuked-out world where biker gangs kill remorselessly against a backdrop of two dying forces just killing each other for domination's sake, with only what the military programmed him to do inside his head, is there any reason for Geist to try and save it? Compared to everyone else, he's just vying to keep himself occupied. He's not so much evil, he's just killing whatever gets in his way, and with no military instituion holding him back, he may as well just make more battle for himself until he has completely ran his course. If you scratch the surface a little of its limited characters, you can find a lot.

If you love 80s OVAs, you've probably already seen this and made your opinion, but if you do like these dystopian stories set in the desert that share similarities to many exploitation movies of the 80s, of if you just want a 40-minute actioneer, check this out, it's miles above the standard of modern 'cute girl' anime today, trashy as it is.

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