Controversy has been swirling over the last year about the popular computer game Grand Theft Auto III. Known by name even by computer illiterates who keep up with the news, this violent but brilliant title starts the player off as a small town hood who works his way up the crime syndicate ladder by pulling off heists, driving around thugs, and becoming an overall menace to society. Attacked for supposedly encouraging illegal behavior, GTA III has still been named best game of the year by countless magazines. Why? Because it's so darn fun--and funny--that any sane person playing it simply sees a creative parody of the culture of The Sopranos and The Godfather. In the same manner, Riding Bean is a fantastic, exuberant OVA that follows a hero who's a criminal in action, but it makes him and his compatriots in crime into great characters that we can't help but love. Although a couple of sequences feel out of place (particularly to the sensitive viewer), the adventures of Bean Bandit are so good that it's amazing a sequel has never been made.
Bean is, in addition to being the coolest man on the planet, a driver for those of the felonious persuasion rich enough to afford his enormous rates. Of course, if you need to flee a crime scene with tons of cops in pursuit, Bandit's the only guy in Chicago assured of a clean escape. Although he constantly frustrates his nemesis on the police force, Percy, Bean is actually a reasonable guy with a heart for kids and a distaste for gigs where innocent people get hurt. His partner, the cute but deadly Rally Vincent, keeps his appointments straight and makes sure Bean doesn't get personally involved in his clients' affairs. Things are looking up after a successful getaway worth about $40K, but then the Windy City breaks loose when Bean and Rally find themselves framed in a kidnapping operation. And when Bean gets double-crossed...well, let's just say that things get personal. He doesn't wear a bullet-proof headband for nothing, you know.
Written, designed, and supervised by Kenichi Sonoda, the man behind Gunsmith Cats and the designs of the original Bubblegum Crisis OVAs, you'll find that Riding Bean rarely takes a break. For its forty-five minute running time, it pretty much keeps things moving, slowing down just long enough to establish its characters and plot before revving up to a couple great chase scenes and a satisfying showdown at the end. Sonoda is obviously a gearhead, and his attention to detail on both cars and weaponry is admittedly impressive as displayed here. The action sequences also look excellent, not resorting to the dreaded flashing lines that substitute for movement in too many anime.
So if I'm fawning over Riding Bean so much, why is its grade only an A-? Unfortunately, in his quest for realism, Sonoda didn't know when to quit. During the opening, we see the resulting gore from when a guy put up a fight against the team robbing his company. The same crew strips down a woman and parades her nude through the streets as a distraction and human shield (at least that's the most reasonable explanation I can make for it). There's also a quick segment of Rally changing clothes that screams out "fan service", and then a later scene with some off-color dialogue between a young woman guarding a male prisoner. These spots just feel gratuitous. These questionable sequences make the show unacceptable for younger audiences that would likely get a great kick out of the rest of it. The extras that were supposed to bring in more viewers really make it harder for me to show this to some friends.
That being said, Riding Bean is a ride I enjoy taking. The rest of the show works wonderfully, from the half-mad Percy and the police force baiting Bean to come out and play to a great visual homage to The French Connection. If you're not easily offended, it's more fun than the typical OVA on the shelves.
Riding Bean -- violence (briefly graphic), brief nudity, adult situations -- A-