Saturday, 21 May 2011

Roots Search

Rip-offs, if you pardon the bad pun, are certainly nothing new. During the 1980s, cash-ins on action as well as science-fiction blockbusters were certainly very common; many b-movie directors from across the globe have always sought to show their 'original' take on a well-trodden story or popular idea. While live-action movies have their plethora of blatant knock-offs, animation has for the most part been spared of such ideals. Instead many directors chose to inspire their work from other sources. In particular, Japan has borrowed many story and design ideas from series and movies from America and vice versa. Take for example how the mega-popular OVA series Bubblegum Crisis borrowed the artistic design and the dystopic atmosphere whole-heartedly from cyberpunk tales like Blade Runner; however that series along with many others of the same ilk have built around those foundations with new ideas and elements that feel less like they are trying to cash in and more like they care about creating a new world that defines a genre rather than adhere to tired formulas.

Unfortunately, in the case of Roots Search - Life Devourer X/ルーツ・サーチ 食心物体X, its prime directive was to be a total ripoff of the 1979 movie Alien. Believe me when I say that this 45 minute OVA from 1986 (the year that also brought us the infamous M.D. Geist) truly is a standout piece of derivative dreck.

However before we delve into the show itself, lets have a quick look at the front cover for the tape this was originally released on. An otherworldly, ominous looking oil painting of a woman sleeping in a Gigeresque cryogenic container resembling a Space Jockey. Of course, the artwork has absolutely no relevance to the show and even the title bears little connection. Roots Search? Perhaps its delving back into the roots of civilization? Bah-dum-tish. Funnily enough the blood red title font as it dissolves into space reminds me of a horrible skid mark left in a public bathroom; a sign of things to come perhaps?

Roots Search takes place in outer space aboard the Tolmeckius Research Center where the barebones crew of three experiments on our main character, a girl by the name of Moira. Despite her appearence coming off like an 11 year old's first attempt at drawing a Toshiro Hirano character, she with little to no explanation turns out to have psychic or 'ESP' powers and with the power of fantasy cliches is able to see into the future; including a sneak peek at the possible gruesome fates that her crew may just face at the hands of a possible plot device. The three other characters include Scott, a scientist with a rather creepy and underdeveloped attraction to Moira. Marcus whos facial hair is so grizzled I half expected him to have a secret job at the Daily Bugle and a pudgy technician by the name of Norman.

After a small out of control ship known as the 'Green Planet' warps dangerously close to the research station, an investigation is sent out to find possible casualties. Unsurprisingly all of the crew are discovered dead at the scene apart from one man. Soon after, Norman discovers a comatose alien seemingly dormant onboard the 'Green Planet'. Funny how there is absolutely no build up to the appearence of the alien, possibly because the design of this monster is so dire and laughable. Imagine if the Creature from the Black Lagoon was draped in a wet bed sheet. After Marcus has a hissy fit about the alien possibly killing off most of the Green Planet's crew, he heads to his quarters where his mind is psychically assaulted by the creature presenting itself as a Dr Wily lookalike named Raymond blaming him for his suicide and subsequently impaling him onto the ceiling with sharp slabs of the wall which literally appear out of nowhere. Riveting.

After that hilariously unconvincing death we cut back to the surviving member of the Green Planet awaking to the delight of Moira who soon discovers along with Scott, Marcus' corpse draped on the ceiling. Scott however isn't phased and quickly kills the mood: 'That's too gory for a young woman to have to see.' Cue awkward philosophising by Moira about the meaning of life and death; because in space no one can hear you preach. Soon after that, Scott and Norman are systematically killed off in more poorly constructed and animated demises (mainly comprised of strobe lights and dull past visions)  by the alien's psychic power. These visions are mainly designed as a means of ham-handedly developing the characters but instead feels futile and ends up as just another way to add extra padding to such a barebones story. Our last remaining male, the survivor Buzz explains to Moira how the alien invades peoples minds and kills them despite the fact I am sure the audience figured that out ten minutes previously. Moira reluctantly believes Buzz's idea explaining that: 'Even if it turns out you're an alien, I believe what you said.' Do I sense a contrived romance coming on?
The alien starts to contaminate the ship by way of spreading tentacles which resemble gelatinous coffee stains mixed with fruit loops trying to ensnare our protagonists claiming that 'In the name of God, I will kill all you humans.' Yes, it talks. Perhaps the alien came from the Nicolas Cage school of prophesising. After an out-of-the blue smooch, we cut to Moira and Buzz frolicking naked (?) through a field intertwined with them attempting to escape before the ship transforms into a throbbing tumour. The OVA does not even have a real ending per se as Moira and Buzz wake up after an explosion still onboard the crippled ship as they announce hand in hand that they will escape no matter what........uh what was the point of this show then? Anti-climax thy name is Roots Search.

So if the glacially paced plot, phony philosophising and the one dimensional characters haven't bored you to tears yet, the animation of this OVA will have your fingers clawing out your eyes. Low frame rates, awkward proportions, and downright ugly character designs obviously show the inexperience of the crew behind this pointless exercise in clumsy storytelling. Even the minimalist musical score sounds like a cheap keyboard banged on by a hyperactive four year old. As with many shlocky OVAs of the 80s, Roots Search's staff was a cavalcade of mediocrity and wasted talent from the get go; character designs by Sanae Kobayashi (Crystal Triangle), writer Michiru Shimada who would later pen Urusei Yatsura and animation director Hiroshi Negishi (Bounty Dog, Suikoden Demon Century). Lastly, this was the directorial debut of Hisashi Sugai who would later go on to create such enduring classics as 'Sweet bugger all else.'

Thankfully, Roots Search has since faded into obscurity along with many others of Central Park Media's 'one hit wonders'. However the soundtrack on vinyl has a wonderfully Engrish song title: 'Scratch My Breast.' After watching this OVA I can safefully say I am scratching my head in shame that this was licensed by a distributor let alone released in its current state.
  • Lame-ass alien design: 4/5
  • Philosophising for Dummies: 4/5
  • Unsolved ending: Off the scale. 
-Oli, 13 August 2009 (original date)

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