Russ Meyer is a strange curiosity in the world of show business. He almost single-handedly created the so-called "softcore" genre of film, featuring women in various states of undress, back in the late 50s and early 60s. Though his fascination with unnaturally well-endowed women never ended, his later films added a bizarre blend of female empowerment, cliché, satire, comedy, and ultra-violence. Although he was scorned for creating what amounted to exploitation films, no less than Roger Ebert worked with him on his films. (In fact, Ebert wrote the screenplays for three of Meyer's films, two under pseudonyms.) And despite the tastelessness of such films as Fanny Hill, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, film critics around the world still mention his best films as perverse, charming pleasures.
And if Russ Meyer had ever gotten over to Japan and directed an anime, it could very well have been Variable Geo.
In our 3-part OVA, Variable Geo is a contest between waitresses across Japan who take their martial arts skills to the limits. Arenas are virtually everywhere, from Olympic-style stadiums to boxing rings that, when activated, rise out of busy traffic intersections. There's a big catch to the competition, though: the final winner gets real estate and cash prizes. The losers along the way have to strip naked in front of millions of home viewers. Either way, the audience is happy, right?
Into this world enters Yuka, an, um...bouncy server who would love to help her shop owner by winning the competition and getting some prime real estate to get out of the hovel they currently work in. Her best friend, Satomi, isn't in the competition, but she has helped Yuka train to get to the top. And things appear to be OK...that is, until Satomi's little brother winds up in the hospital again. While Yuka is busy making sure she's not the one having to doff her clothes on national television, Satomi is getting drawn into the dark commercial syndicate who runs Variable Geo. The corporation promises to take care of Satomi's medical bills for her brother, but at a price...and her choice will put her in direct competition with her best friend. As Yuka gets closer and closer to the final tournament, the dark web of intrigue grows tighter, and Yuka may not survive the last round.
Despite the dramatic turns the show takes, Variable Geo is about as serious as Chevy Chase. It's all about action, pretty girls, and...no other way to put this...gettin' nekkid. And it goes about these bits quite well. The character designs are darn cute, making these young women enjoyable to watch. The action isn't animated in a realistic style, opting for the "mad dash of colored lines behind the fighter" cop-out, but it's still exciting. And if you like seeing bare flesh, it's here in abundance. If that's all you care about, you can stop reading and go buy this disc.
However, Variable Geo disturbs me for a number of reasons. I can handle sex and violence in my anime just fine, but here it is indeed exploitive. Every female in this show is unrealistically well endowed. The game at the center of the show is just an excuse to show undressed women, and that doesn't score points in my book. The show also makes it quite clear that some of the losers are definitely against completing their punishment, and the fact that they are made to do so against their wills can make even the horniest guy uncomfortable watching this. ADV has rated the show a 17+, fully aware of its R-rated nature, but even then it's troubling. Thankfully, these unnerving moments pass quickly, but they would stop me from ever watching the show again.
Even when those bits are removed from the creation, Variable Geo is a pretty tacky show. Abundant clichés move the plot along rather than any meaningful occurrences. The battles don't really get us anywhere, and the competitors are cookie-cutter characters out of Anime 101--the smart, formal gal with glasses, the short perky companion, the butch strong girl with a buried heart of gold, and so on.
And yet, probably the most disturbing thing I found about Variable Geo is that I still enjoyed it on a base, visceral level. When interrupted ten minutes before the grand finale, I had to stop the DVD for a few hours. Despite my aversion to much within the show, I was actually interested in finding out how it concluded. Despite so much formulaic madness splayed out before us, I still was taken with it enough to finish it off.
I recently called Assemble Insert a guilty pleasure without the guilt. Well, all the extra guilt came over to Variable Geo. It's one of those anime that is probably most appreciated at 11:30pm with some goofy friends and a six-pack. However, I don't recommend that scenario, and I can't recommend Variable Geo. It's some of the best-made trash I've seen, but it's still trash at heart.
Variable Geo -- nudity, violence, disturbing imagery -- C