Time Bokan OVA
Do you remember Scooby's Laff Olympics? You know, the Hanna-Barbara cartoon in the late '70s where they threw in almost every character they could from their older series into a mix of games, races, and lunacy? (If you haven't, occasionally you can still find them on Cartoon Network or collecting dust at your video store.) They were frankly pretty stupid, but if you knew the characters, they could be great fun too. I mean, what beats watching Captain Caveman, Grape Ape, and Boo Boo go for the gold in ostrich racing?
What does this have to do with anime? Well, Time Bokan was an extremely popular robot-team comedy television show during the mid-'70s in Japan, which spun off several series and made lots of cash for its parent company Tatsunoko. In an attempt to cash in on old but beloved characters from their past, Tatsunoko revived the series via a two-part OVA in 1993. The format they used wound up being, in essence, a Scooby's Laff Olympics of '70s anime properties. This OVA set was just released in early 2005 by Central Park Media, and you'd think it might be a load of fun. Unfortunately, for the average American viewer, it's a maze of characters we've never seen, and the humor is utterly lost.
In the first episode of Time Bokan, we are given a very brief introduction to a bunch of bad guys from various BOKAN spin-off shows who are to compete in a race to see who's going to get to be the villains in the second episode. (And yes, this makes it even more like another Hanna-Barbara property called Wacky Races. But that was even before I was born, so let's move on.) They cheat, do mean things, and ultimately one team barely makes it to the finish line. In the second episode, the rogues are called upon to steal a precious something-or-other from Tatsunoko City. All well and good, except how can they possibly do anything bad with all the Tatsunoko heroes patrolling the streets looking for some good deed to do? Silliness follows.
This is a strange show to have to consider from an artistic or animation perspective, since it tends to be very faithful to the '70s shows it honors. Does it look old? Yes, but it's supposed to. Also, considering that these OVAs are themselves 12 years old, the DVD looks about as good as can be expected. Musically, the songs are pretty much parodies, but they are a funny bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming experience.
I have no idea whether or not Japanese 30-somethings found this show funny in 1993. I hope so, 'cause somebody needs to have gotten something out of it. For me, the first episode was a complete waste. Knowing none of the characters, if there were in-jokes, all of them fell flat. I suppose it says something about American anime fans that we only get in-jokes about shows newer than 1985 (and in most cases, 1995). But I didn't even see that to be the case. To me, all the jokes were pretty flat to start with. Granted, the Japanese have a unique sense of humor (as does every culture). But this wasn't amusing at all. Even the slapstick, the universal baseline of comedy, didn't work.
The second episode was slightly better, if only because I knew the reference points. Yes, I thought it funny to see the cameo appearances by the members of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (known throughout my youth as the heroes of Battle of the Planets). The references to Astro Boy and Speed Racer were brief but cute. Again, though, two minutes of special appearances do not a show make. And the Time Bokan OVAs needed a whole lot more to make for decent entertainment.
Did anybody at CPM watch this show before licensing it? Did they think it would sell here? Granted, of all the major US distributors, CPM has the worst track record for releasing shows that make you wonder why they ever bought them in the first place. Sometimes, they do surprise me; I really have enjoyed their recent DVDs of Shootfighter Tekken and BlackJack. But this? I think they got duped. Their ads for the show are also misleading, as their voiceover makes claims that this is the much-loved show that made waves in Japan. The original TV series certainly did, but this just isn't the same thing.
At any rate, save your money on this one. I'd really like to see some of the '70s anime licensed and released here, if nothing else so that those of us who like studying the history of anime would be able to analyze it more closely. But this is a cheap attempt for a fast buck on a well-loved name in Japan.
Time Bokan OVA -- brief profanity, brief nudity, mild crude humor -- D+