In the summer of 2010, the direct-to-video action exploitation flicks of the 1980s made a comeback in theatres with The Expendables. Critics were harsh on it, calling the plot predictable and the dialogue execrable...even though it delivered on the promised action. Moviegoers expecting a high-class thrill ride were disappointed. But anybody who wanted to see explosions, muscles galore, and violence replete with gore got their money's worth. If you didn't like it, you weren't the audience.
Such is virtually the same with Straight Jacket, a 2007 OVA series based on a light novel series. It's wondrously awful. Any self-respecting anime lover will snicker at the lame dialogue, the predictable stock characters, and the intensely stupid concept that fuels this heap. At the same time, for those who want a bloody, violent free-for-all with plenty of action that reminds you of the guilty pleasures found on the racks of Blockbuster many a moon ago...you're going to dig it.
In this alternate history, sorcery made a comeback in the late 1800s. Turns out that it's a whole lot easier to heal diseases, build skyscrapers, and manufacture IPods with magic spells than, you know, actual work. In virtually all areas of life, sorcery has taken hold. But this is a Pandora's Box, you see. For when someone misuses sorcery or uses it too much or is really just having a honkin' terrible day, they turn from ordinary human beings into gigantic lumpy Pillsbury Doughboys on acid with freakish arms and legs and whatnot bursting out of them like Testuo at the end of Akira. Oh, and they suddenly go from being mild-mannered to wanting to split every human they see into as many pulpy pieces as possible. And there's no cure for this; you've just got to blow the crap out of them until they die. Normal firearms have little effect other than to make them want to tear their wielders limb from limb. You see the problem here?
The only folks who can kill these “demons” are “tactical sorcerists,” guys who use forbidden magic to vanquish their foes. Because of the inherent danger of using these powers, let alone ones verboten for their magnitude, they wear suits known as “straight jackets.” Every tactical sorcerist knows that he runs the risk of becoming Play-doh from hell, but with so many demons slaughtering people right and left, what choice do they have?
The story itself concerns itself with Leiot Steinberg, a rogue sorcerist/straight jacket who's called in to fight because more and more of these demons start popping up. He's got a kid with him who helps him with his job, and of course there's a dark secret to their shared past. Nerin Simmons, a bumbling redhead with glasses stereotype who's here solely to add some sex appeal, is tasked with keeping up with them. Meanwhile, Leiot earns the ire of Isaac Hammond, a straitlaced sorcerist who thinks that Leiot's tactics (re: blow everything up) give real straightjackets a bad name. As the show progresses, their storylines intersect as we watch people get torn apart real good and buildings explode into ashes.
There ain't nothin' subtle about this show, folks. What you see is what you get. And what you get is a whole lot of brutal violence punctuated by a turgid soundtrack full of sound and fury telling you that this stuff is way cool and awesome. The dub track is suitably overacted by some well-known actors in the business doing their best to make this ridiculous show seem vaguely meaningful and important. The lines are awful, but at least you get to hear famous VAs deliver them. The animation is competent and nothing goes off-model, but you won't be impressed except perhaps when things go boom.
The concept itself is ludicrous. Now I like the whole “alchemy in the modern world” idea. It could make for an intriguing show...come to think of it, it's a lot like FullMetal Alchemist, only not. And that was really good, so this could be a different take on it. But the problem is, there is a huge logical hole in the storyline. I'm sorry, no matter how much alchemy seems to help you do your daily tasks, if using it makes it very likely that you are going to become a rampaging blob, it would be outlawed. None of the advances pictured in the show really require magic at all. I mean, if doctors were curing cancer and NASA was building the starship Enterprise with it, that'd be one thing. But most everything we see is simplistic. There's very little need for the magic we see in use. And with monsters popping up everywhere, you'd think that even a dunderheaded government would think, “Uh, maybe we should do something about this?” The whole idea crumbles under analysis.
But Straight Jacket wasn't made to be analyzed; it was made to watch with sake and popcorn in hand. It is really good at what it sets out to do, to entertain guys with some mindless, gory violence. I was never bored at all watching it. And truthfully, it's far better than many of the '80s shows that come before it like Iczer 1, M. D. Geist, and Crystal Triangle. In fact, it was quite fun once I realized the terribleness I was in for. Not every movie can be Grave Of The Fireflies, after all.
I can't give this show a recommendation. It is atrocious, make no mistake. But I am going to give it the highest mark I can in that low category. If I wanted to show someone the perfect example of a grade-Z anime that's still entertaining for those with strong stomachs and a soft spot for Christopher Lambert and Dolph Lundgren, this is the first place I'd turn.