8 Man After
Superheroes are rare in the anime canon. There are plenty of magical girls and hotshots with guns, but superheroes appear to be primarily an American phenomenon. When Japanese characters turn into superheroes, they often wind up being automatons of some sort, such as Astro Boy. At first, then, it would seem that 8 Man After would be a happy addition to the genre. The story of 8 Man After is actually a sequel to a superhero show in the 60s, though it's very different in tone and structure--reminiscent, in fact, of the difference between the 60s version of Batman and its modern movie counterpart. There's also no need to have seen the original incarnation to make sense of 8 Man After. Sadly, this 1993 OVA series is as stiffly mechanical as its lead character.
Years ago, the original 8 Man disappeared without a trace, leaving behind Sachiko, the woman he loved. The world has gotten darker in his absence, with junkies roaming the streets trying to find drugs that will keep their cybernetic components from driving them insane. Hazama is a surly private detective living through the madness, working for a black kid named Sam who's trying to find his father, a professional football player who's gone missing. As Hazama tracks down some leads, he meets Sachiko and asks her out.
Things appear to be going swimmingly until Sachiko gets attacked and Hazama is fatally wounded trying to protect her. All is not lost, though, as Hazama is merged with 8 Man to create the second version of the robotic hero. Instead of being interested in fighting crime, Hazama is confused and conflicted about his life as an android. As a gang of cybernetic punks tries to control the city, Hazama must find how to control the dual sides of his nature to save those he loves from the evil threat.
8 Man After strikes me as a show with lots of wasted potential. The plot isn't bad and many of the set pieces could have been interesting. But there's a lack of execution, starting with the animation. I don't know that I've seen a show recently that had such a slapped-together feel to the character designs. Sam and the police chief look like they were designed to be in a totally different, funnier show than our leads. Although it might have been intentional to try and bring more flavor, they look out of place. The artwork is notable for its lack of detail, which is a killer in a cyberpunk show. Add in reused animation, and you've got a show that's a burden to watch. It's a challenge especially because the leads show virtually no emotion, even in highly charged scenes.
8 Man After has that woeful feeling of a show designed by committee. I wouldn't be surprised if the screenwriter or animators thought this show would be great and came up with some excellent ideas only to see them removed or watered down. Some material left still shines. There's real life and creativity in a city flyover that turns into a model. There's a sense of detached dangerousness surrounding Hazama that makes sense when his back-story is revealed; at least at the beginning, Hazama makes us curious. There's even the hope that Sachiko will become a good foil for Hazama.
But all our faith in the show gets wiped out pretty quickly. Once Hazama becomes 8 Man, in fact, the show dissolves into a mess. Though one sequence set at a football game caught my attention, the rest of it winds up being rote. None of the villains have any character to them, and so when the show becomes all about them carrying out their backstabbing ways, I got bored. Real bored. In fact, it was hard to keep my eyes open, and this was in the middle of the afternoon! Without any emotional attachment to these characters, I was more interested in getting a Diet Vanilla Pepsi from the fridge than watching the surprisingly violent fight sequences that followed. Then there's the ultimate insult...two endings. The first works, and the second one doesn't. The second one exists only to make things appear happier at the end, and it is terrible.
The other trouble that 8 Man After can't overcome is its dub. The US DVD only contains the dub made by Streamline Pictures a number of years ago under the direction of Carl Macek. The rewrite isn't bad, but the voice acting is. It's not that those chosen can't act, but a few were woefully miscast. Although the stable of typical Streamline actors--which are well known to anybody who's seen any Streamline shows at all--are put to decent use, the ethnic characters sound all wrong. Their parts are written in a stereotypical fashion, and the voice actors just don't have the proper tone to make those characters work. Granted, the Japanese tend to misuse ethnic characters in their anime, and I can't say whether or not the original got this right. But Macek had the opportunity to cast the right people, and he blew it. If there really was an African-American gentleman dubbing either of the voices, then my apologies...but to my ears, the voices sounded like white men trying to pull off pseudo-jivespeak. (Actually, Sam could have very well been a white woman, since his voice hadn't matured yet.) The roles needed authenticity that wasn't there.
Although I had read some lousy reviews of this title, the original concept still appealed to me. But I should trust my online reviewer friends more than that! 8 Man After isn't a terrible show, but a terribly mediocre one. I might try and find the original show someday, but I won't be returning to this muddle.
8 Man After -- graphic violence, profanity -- C