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Wicked City: Remastered Special Edition Anime DVD Review

8 min read

wicked-city-coverWhat They Say:
It’s not unusual for lady-killer Renzaburo Taki to share a night with a woman. When that woman can turn into a demonic spider, however, it’s just a little worrying. The demons are on the move, and as a member of the Black Guard, Taki’s job–his “real” job–is to protect the human world from the demon world. And his work is just beginning! A fragile peace exists between the two worlds, brokered by a treaty. In order for the renewal of that treaty to go smoothly, Taki has to protect Giuseppi Mayart, a two hundred-year-old man with immense spiritual power, from an extremist faction of demons seeking to bring chaos to the two worlds.

Worst of all, Taki’s assigned a partner for the mission: the unnaturally beautiful Makie, a fellow Black Guard member… and herself a demon! The two will have to go all out to protect the old man, as not only are the demons going to extreme lengths to kill him, but Mayart seems oddly unconcerned for his own safety. Is there more going on than Taki and Makie realize?

The Review:
This release has five separate audio tracks and all of them play out pretty clearly. There’s the original Japanese audio in Dolby Digital 2.0. Also, we have the American dub by Streamline pictures in Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1. We also get two new tracks note released previously in the U.S. There’s a British dub produced by Manga UK in DD 2.0., and finally, we get a commentary track from anime expert Mike Toole telling us about the history of the film. All of these came through perfectly fine with no distortion during playback.

The picture looks nicer and more enhanced than previous releases. Reds and similar hues have benefited the most seemingly. The movie as a whole takes place mostly at night so those colors stand out a bit more, though blues and similar hues have a bit more saturation to them as well. This is probably the nicest looking picture we’ll have without getting a Blu-ray release.

There’s a paper slipcase depicting the film’s original theatrical poster artwork but with a masthead of stylish white text in the top thirds. The rear shows the text of the “what they say” section in rather small white print in the upper left corner. There’s a simulated broken gunshot window with Makie’s face taking up the full center. Other characters are displayed in the broken surrounding pieces. Special feature, technical data and more screenshots take up the lower half ot eh picture. The DVD case itself is a clear plastic one. There’s a reversible insert as well. One side emulates the slipcase imagery. The reverse shows Taki in an action pose in black-&-white.

The left 2/3 of the screen are dominated by the film’s original theatrical poster in which Taki shoots at the camera perspective pointed at him as well as a creature coming at him. Makie’s eyes are shown just above a red slicing motion. One-third of the right of the screen shows disc options listed vertically in white text. The film’s closing theme – “Hold Me In The Shadow” by Hitomi Tooyama- repeats in the background.

The extras are rather extensive here. Some are ones you might expect. The main movie uses the original Japanese footage throughout. So as an extra we see how the U.S. and UK each handle opening and closing sequences. The UK one is a bit nostalgic as it appears to be taken from a VHS copy. We also get various trailers including the original Japanese trailer, the English one from Streamline as well as Discotek Media’s own trailer for this remastered edition. The others that are pretty interesting though such as the aforementioned commentary track by Mike Toole. This was pretty educational in learning about Wicked City’s history as well as that of director Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Speaking of whom, we also get an interview with him on here. Finally, there’s a section of animated storyboards combined with audio from five of the film’s key moments. It’s rather fun to see these scenes this way.

Content:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first time I saw this movie, it was about 1989. My friend brought it to my house and we stuck in the tape to watch it. I was immediately struck by how smooth the artwork was and how much the jazzy music dark colors, and high contrasts captured the atmosphere of a crime noir movie, similar in some ways to the film Golgo 13. There was no translation of any sort, so we were just guessing that a well-to-do man was picking up a lovely lady at the bar and becoming friendly with the bartender. No big deal. So he takes her back to his apartment for a good time. I see my friend grinning slightly because he apparently knows what’s coming after the characters have their session….. in which the woman reveals herself to have an agenda with this gentleman…. and an extra something that makes her the inspiration for the 2007 indie movie known as “Teeth”. It’s… quite an image, so much so that I take the tape out and give it back to my friend yelling “What the hell?”

The thing is, I couldn’t stop thinking about the animation style I’d just seen and so after my friend kept prodding, I finally made it through the crazy imagery and action sequences, still not entirely certain of the storyline (which was par for the course in those days.) So I became fascinated with this film entitled Supernatural Beast City and even used the bedroom scene for a class project on safe sex. (Got an A, naturally.) A few years later I saw the poster for this movie now re-titled Wicked City that was playing at a local college’s movie theater and wondered if the students had any idea what they were in for. At least I could see that Streamline Pictures had taken an interest in getting this anime into art house theaters like they had Fist of the North Star and Vampire Hunter D at the time. Also, I could finally find out the story behind this movie.

Released in Japan in 1987, Wicked City was an OAV released by a director named Yoshiaki Kawajiri and was his first solo project. It was an adaptation of a horror novel by Hideyuki Kikuchi about life in Japan in the shadow of a tenuous treaty with a dimension of monsters. This would become the first of a few collaborations between novelist and director.

The film opens with our lead character Taki Renzaburu giving a summary of Earth’s treaty with a horrific parallel dimension called The Black World. The treaty has remained intact for hundreds of years and must be renewed periodically, which radical members of the Black World don’t want. To maintain the peace against the radicals on either side, there are the agents of The Black Guard, which Taki belongs to. As the movie goes on, Taki finds he is to be assigned guard duty for Giuseppe Maiyart, a small (and rather lecherous) wizard who is to help complete the treaty. Taki is also given a partner from the black world, a beautiful woman named Makie who has a few special abilities to help fight the various monsters. Being human, Taki instead has to rely on regular fighting skills and a gun that’s seemingly the equivalent of an .88 Magnum (goes through schools), but he gets the job done.

There’s little doubt as to the mentality of the scriptwriters since the male creatures sometimes turn into powerful beasts while the females… can become too much woman for just about any man to handle. For example, the woman in the opening scene was a creation of the director not the initial author. Also, there are points where it seems the writers stayed up nights thinking of ways to abuse Makie, but she does get to account for herself eventually. In watching this translated version (and subsequent tapes and DVDs of later years), I came to see that beyond the near-hental level sexual overtones , Wicked City has a solid horror-fantasy story and is a pretty entertaining film about people fighting monstrous evils in dark times, which ends at a rather interesting point for future potential stories.

Wicked City became a very influential work in due to Kawajiri establishing his style for high-quality dark animation after having assisted on the feature film SF New Century Lensman. Subsequently he would use this on other works such as Demon City Shinjuku, Goku Midnight Eye, Cyber City Oedo 808 and X the TV series among others. Most modern American anime fans will recognize his trademark style on Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, or perhaps the short piece entitled The Running Man, originally a segment of the anthology film Neo Tokyo (AKA Manie-Manie Labyrinth Tales) which was broadcast on MTV’s Liquid Television. This style became a trademark for both Kawajiri and the Madhouse anime studio. Other companies would attempt to emulate it by doing dark-themed OAVs but without the insane amount of key animation that made the character movements so smooth and fluid, the derivatives looked cheap in comparison.

There are two English speaking dubs on here and it’s quite fun to compare the quality on these. The Streamline Pictures one supervised by Carl Macek of Harmony Gold fame utilized many of the actors you might hear on the American audio for Akira, Golgo 13 or Robotech. Credit-wise, there seems to be the usual 90’s pattern of listing casts without attributing individual roles, even on the amalgamated credits sequence designed to compile all such information on this DVD. After looking through Anime News Network’s encyclopedia and, I was able to see Gregory Snegoff had solid presence as Taki while playing off against Gaye Kruger’s competent and capable Makie. Actually, the entire crew as a whole did a good job and had mostly decent dialogue, except for times when Mayart’s lines were written to be over-cheesy and could take the viewer out of the seriousness of a given moment. As to the British dub, it gets to be a bit hammy and cheesy in terms of vocal cadences, often reminiscent of mid-90s stuff.

In Summary:
In the end, I had a lot of fun going through this disc with all the extras it has and the history it represents. Wicked City will turn thirty next year and this disc is a good way to reflect on everything this movie’s animation style brought to the industry forefront over the decades. I know it’s likely some of you reading this already have Urban Vision’s release of the Special Edition (which was a good disc in itself). But the remastered video and extras present here make me recommend a double-dip so to speak for previous owners and a definite first buy for those who have not seen this OAV before. Just make sure the kids aren’t present. This is definitely NOT for them.

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A+
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: A+

Released By: Discotek Media / Eastern Star
Release Date: January 26th, 2016
MSRP: $24.95
Running Time: 80 minutes
Video Encoding: 480p Standard Definition
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3

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