Anime fans have not had to suffer a famine for quite a long time. Decades, in fact.
It’s hard to imagine there not being new anime available for months at a time and then when new things did become available you would likely pick up anything that came out just to get a taste, to see something new, and possibly make a discovery. The early ’90s were slim pickings when it came to getting your anime at Suncoast at times as releases were few and far between for a while. And what we got were pretty much films, OVAs, or truncated TV series. This meant a low commitment, which was a plus, but it left you wanting more as well. In this kind of mindset, I can still visualize the day that my local comic shop had gotten in some new VHS tapes from Central Park Media and knew that I’d be game for anything. Hell, I think I even bought the LaserDisc of this when it was released in 1993.
Hence owning Dog Soldier: Shadows of the Past.
The premise for the OVA is pretty simple but also kind of surprising considering when it came out. When an American scientist carrying a cure for the AIDS virus is kidnapped by an arms merchant, John Kyosuke is forced back from retirement. He accepts the challenge to regain possession of the anti-serum. He finds out that some of the people he is after are closely related, which gives his conquest a whole new meaning.
The OVA is based on the manga of the same name by Tetsuya Saruwatari which began in 1987 and had twelve volumes produced for it, none of which saw overseas licensing. Saruwatari would gain more fame later on for his work on the Riki-Oh manga as well as Tough, essentially playing in the manly man field of manga with its violence. The OVA was directed by Hiroyuki Ebata, who had some good credits to his name, such as the assistant director on Arcadia of My Youth, Dagger of Kamui, and some favorites like Goku: Midnight Eye, Demon City Shinjuku, and even Twilight of the Cockroaches. His career was pretty much within a small decade or so of work but it was one that was strong and this was one of three projects he was the main director on. Outlasting him was the screenwriter, Shou Aikawa, who went on to work on the creation of Martian Successor Nadesico and scripted most of Twelve Kingdoms among many other projects.
The OVA really does play like a condensed version of a Hollywood ‘80s action film. It’s lead by John Kyosuke Hiba, played by the always fantastic Akira Kamiya, as he’s brought in to find the scientist and the serum. Brought in being an amusing way of saying forced into it after getting caught up in some other action at the start. Hiba’s just trying to live his life doing labor work instead of the grim work he had done for years for the government. But with his hand being forced, he’s back on the job with his friend Fudou, a muscle type character with a heart of gold. The pursuit of the vaccine is fairly straightforward but they try to bring a few things into it to complicate it with larger power struggles and forces at work, but that never feels like it comes together well. We even get a mild romantic subplot involving a woman known as Catherine that Hiba hasn’t seen in over a decade that’s naturally caught up in all the happenings.
The dub for this is certainly fun with some overacting at hand, but it’s par for the course from this time period. Don Brown played the lead well and he was joined by Brian Dobson and Cathy Weseluck in other main roles. The cast also included Jason Gray-Stanford and had Karl Willems and Sarah-Anne Dafoe handling the ADR direction.
All in all, Dog Soldier: Shadows of the Past is the kind of OVA property that was ideal for its time. It had some accessible American elements to it that you could figure out even without a script or subtitled version. It had some good action sequences and violence, which was the bread and butter for the early anime fan at this stage. It’s the kind of title that made sense to pick up and market like Central Park Media did. It’s one that certainly feels its age in the here and now, thirty years later. But I’ll continue to admit wishing that it would get a rescue, a clean-up, and some love. I don’t think it’s as bad as it was once made out to be but it’s still a rough work. With it being from the VHS-only era and one of few titles that didn’t make the leap to DVD, it will always hold some appeal from that and my own early experiences in the world of anime with it.