Friday, 15 July 2011

A definitive re-write

Is there really much else that can be said about M.D. Geist? It's an inglorious title of the direct-to-video animation market of 1980s Japan that has been regularly dug back up to play havoc on the anime community much like the titular character himself; he is less so on life support as he is a poltergeist, causing anime fans everywhere to groan with the racket he makes while a minority loyally support him. He's more than likely to keep coming back; in a way, if you love anime, you will hate M.D. Geist. If you hate anime, you may hate M.D. Geist, or you may love it! Though to be frank, generalisations are of poor taste. Japan's home video market for animation (Original Video Animation, OVAs) carries slightly more positive connotations than "direct-to-video" ever will in the west; the restrictions of TV serial anime were not to be found in the OVA market, which opened up far more doors for various creative forces, giving anyone the chance to do what they wanted without fear of censorship and with a strong target audience willing to buy, buy, buy. There was a bit less focus on the long-term money-making possibilties of a product and more of a focus on the overall creation process. OVAs allowed everyone on the production side to make a bit more money, even if the overall output in the long run was not entirely good. Regardless, pop stars and voice actors would keep themselves circulatory, while designers of any sort would give themselves more curriculum vitae ammunition.

M.D. Geist itself is a 40-minute outing by then-rookie Koichi Ohata, a mechanical designer first and a storyteller second, concerning the reawakening of a super-soldier on the war-torn planet Jerra. The proceeding events in Geist's misadventures on a planet much unlike the earth in Fist of the North Star feature commonplace mistreatings of the English language (frankly standard for anime) and acts of violence against the entire human form. The 'story' that was ultimately decided upon for the feature is really a springboard for Ohata to show off his drawings, animation is ropey throughout and fragmentary plot-expanding dialogue is ultimately bombastic and adds to the incoherence. Ohata, a man whose voice is unfortunately not often heard on the topic of his creations, said in the commentary of the thankfully fruitful US DVD that the original version of M.D. Geist is pretty damn poor, but hey, he was young and at the end of the day him and writer Riku Sanjo are still in the business, Hironobu Kageyama launched his singing career through appearing on the soundtrack to M.D. Geist and Norio Wakamoto walked away with a bit more money in his back pocket from voicing a character with not many lines. M.D. Geist's poor qualities stem from Ohata's youthful arrogance back then; his relatively low-budgeted animation team were often at odds with him over his mercilessly complex designs, which he refused to tone down because this project was his baby.

Geist is a product of a time long gone by in Japanese animation, and this is one reason why his popularity persists; if anything, Ohata created Geist to be antithetical, and antithetical he was. Appearing on a different end of the anime format spectrum for one, Geist was a protagonist designed to go against the grain of teenage heroes in shows coming out in the success of Mobile Suit Gundam, he was designed as being someone who took total glee in battle and the whole production has a somewhat nihilistic touch in that nothing nice EVER happens. However, we follow from Geist's side with his theme songs and background guitar solos highlighting his destruction. With this in mind, the overall unpolished quality of the production can be factored in as well. Being a representation of all of the above, the character and the title are now only more of an antithesis in today's anime industry, in which new fans have sprung up to defend Geist as someone and something fairly atypical of anime. Granted, there are still many naysayers, in which case, how has M.D. Geist's widely-known negative reception come to be? Aside from everything about it pissing off the highest elite of anime snobs from the 1990s, CPM's saturated promotion of the title is essentially what did people in. President John O'Donnell became infatuated with the title and it led to him licensing the character as his company's mascot for their U.S. Manga Corps division, meaning that every tape, Laserdisc and DVD under them greeted their viewers with a stiffly-animated CGI Geist The constant ballyhooing certainly garnered the title its interest as something new and exciting, but as time went on the propaganda became tedious, with great emphasis placed on how Geist was somehow a particularly artistic and deadly serious title, in reality it was a cartoon about a lot of people dying because the director thought his country had too many fictional lead heroes.

Without John O'Donnell though, the title would just be a relic dug up only by animation enthusiasts and regarded with a "hey, look at this" attitude. O'Donnell's love may have been for better or for worse, but through his actions he was able to publish a prequel comic to the original OVA and even gathered the money to fund a director's cut of the original and a sequel. The funds were raised from a customised Harley Davidson being bought off Marvel in their promotion of their Ghost Rider franchise and being used in motor shows to promote M.D. Geist and CPM; with "Geist" meaning 'ghost' in German, it was an amusing tactic. The director's cut touches up on several animation errors seen in the original (while rather frustratingly, inserting diabolical digital zooms that blur the image), adds several new short sequences and features an entirely new audio track. This cut doesn't so much add to the story (it slightly expands the opening sequence primarily, and in a flashback of stills draws a parallel to the prior prequel comic) as it does increase the gore quota. The sequel on the other hand, being made ten years after the original for one, is seemingly made with an entirely different mindset and focuses less on Geist, offering a fairly more serious and sombre story (that works to an extent), its biggest flaw however is that the animation in it is intensely limited. Regardless, despite what CPM had launched Geist into, their (or at least O'Donnell's) efforts have to be thanked for boosting the title's longevity.

Perhaps Geist is just unfortunate for being stuck in the harshly critical anime community, never entirely getting the dues he deserves. While the overall title is something very flawed it's not something I would regard with venom because of its bad qualities, nor would I really call it so "so bad it's good". However way you watch it though, all three animated incarnations of the character are entertaining, or at the very least feature some fantastic artwork and have incredibly good soundtracks, something which is oddly overlooked in many reviews of this anime. This writer would also like to stress that viewers perhaps try watching the director's cut and the sequel in the Japanese audio if possible; both of these audio tracks feature incredibly good VA work that has been sadly overlooked in favour of the 'entertaining' (to me, it's unbearably atrocious) English dub. Yeah, it makes it so bad it's good bla bla but the original production should be entertaining enough, so try enjoying it with the Japanese audio track. Ohata has been lucky getting the recognition he has gotten as a mechanical designer who began his career by working on some fairly unknown shows, and it's a damn shame he no longer seems to release things fully overseen by him. His fanbase is small, but dedicated; the fact that Ohata himself has seen a customised Revoltech figure of Geist is testament to this.

On that note, I have to come own the original title's soundtrack on vinyl, have framed the poster that came with it, I also own the OVA in book form, the Japanese complete works book, the UK and US DVDs, the sequel's soundtrack on CD, an autographed copy of the US graphic novel and the jewel in the obsessive crown would be two sketches of Geist himself signed by Ohata, with one of them sent to me by him. Writing my umpteenth take on the production is only further indication of my infatuation with this anomaly of an anime. If I had the option to fund Ohata for a full-fledged reboot of M.D. Geist though with the right money, you can beat your intestines I would.

Some trivia about M.D. Geist...
Those guys have names!
Believe it or not, the bikers have names. Aside from Mash, there is Golem, who Geist promptly kills, Gista who promptly dies on his motorcycle, and Beast, who possibly dies after hurtling off his bike when Geist jumps aboard a mech (he returns momentarily in the Director's Cut). Their names are all in the credits, but only Golem is referred to by name in the US comic, the rest are only named in production materials.

She also has a name!

And it's not "Vaiya", it's "Paiya". It's seems that for all this time, CPM mistakenly used the name Vaiya without correcting it. To be fair though, it's an easy mistake to make; the katakana characters for ba (what can be interchanged as 'va') and pa look similar but are not identical. A simple oversight is all, it's just that it persisted for so long.

At the same time, she doesn't have a name...

Just like the bikers, Paiya is never actually referred to by name in the original Japanese audio. If you listen closely, she is referred to as "nesan", which means "big sister". CPM tried to do the good thing by helping create familiarity by inserting her name anyway, but the truth is the only way you would be able to tell she was called Paiya is through the credits! On a similar note...

All the names of the 'big players' are from the horror genre

Geist is from poltergeist, Paiya is from vampire, Golem is from (what else?) golem, Crutes is the Japanese pronunication of the Spanish word cruz, which means cross, as in holy cross. The associations are obvious, but only Geist and Crutes actually have meaning, Paiya and Golem are mostly named that way for aesthetic value.

That also has a name

The robot Geist fights at the end is called the Final Striker, and manages to be referenced that in the concept art book and in the sequel. Interestingly, the CPM comic calls it the "Final Terminator".

Confusing credits
Ohata was never initially billed as the director M.D. Geist in 1986, that billing went to Hayato Ikeda, someone who seemed to help out with some of the production. His name was used as it was feared a first-time director (who was really a mechanical designer) would look bad. Hayato Ikedia makes a cameo in M.D. Geist, he is the President Ryan character, who is dead.

Further reading...


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