Ah, the 80s… ‘Twas a fun time as a fan of both animation and science fiction. There was a heavy focus in the anime scene toward mecha, futuristic themes and attempting to skirt nudity rules for productions as often as possible. With the onset of the OAV (Original Animated Video) format, works were created directly for home video instead of TV broadcast or theatrical release. There were less content restrictions for OAVs than TV and less amounts of pictures required to make an animated work look presentable on an OAV than on a theatrical piece, and therefore production costs were lower. Consequently, there was a massive boom in these productions since Dallos and Megazone 23 (the first OAVs) were released in mid-decade.
In 1989, the timing was right for an adaptation of Buichi Terasawa’s manga Goku Midnight Eye to hit the shelves. Terasawa had scored big by having his titular title Space Adventure Cobra animated in the early 80s as a movie and subsequent TV show. It had been some time though since he had any other animation released at this point as Terasawa himself focused primarily on manga. However, the production company Madhouse had successfully gotten hold of the manga and had hired director Yoshiaki Kawajiri to create an adaptation.
Kawajiri had met with some success as an assistant director on SF New Century Lensman at that point. However, he truly hit his stride in directing Wicked City (AKA Supernatural Beast City) which delivered a look and style previously unseen in anime film making. His high contrasts, dark overtones and a tremendous amount of key animation resulting in slick character movements basically set a standard of horror anime that became synonymous with Madhouse for a good while. He continued this trademark style by contributing his racing segment “The Running Man” to the anthology anime Manie-Manie Labyrinth Tales (AKA Neo-Tokyo). After then, he adapted the horror story Demon City Shinjuku and retained much of his dark style for the home video market. Soon it was time to bring Midnight Eye to the shelves.
Taking place years in the future, Goku Midnight Eye is an anime that is the very definition of cyberpunk. Technology has advanced greatly but financial disparity still exists, the rich enjoy the finer things while the poor scrape by however they can. In Neo-Tokyo, we meet Goku Furukawa, a private investigator fired from the police department making his living however he can. He starts to take an interest in several suicide cases involving members of his former squad. Armed only with his .38, he runs afoul of the organization responsible, run by a ruthless businessman with eclectic operatives, including a superhuman strongman, a midget riding a motorcycle/woman who spits out lasers and a half-nude woman whose feather-filled gaze inspires suicidal tendencies.
After his initial encounter (which costs him his left eye), Goku wakes up one night in a city park and hears a mysterious voice saying that his left eye has been replaced with one that can take over any machine and any computer in the entire world, including the ones at NORAD and The Kremlin if he wishes. The benefactor also says that Goku has been given a special staff capable of stretching to incredible lengths and is an extremely handy melee weapon (as two would be muggers find out, unfortunately). Armed with the technology needed to become as formidable as his legendary namesake who took a famous journey west, Goku takes down these people quite handily. Soon a sequel vid was animated in which a young woman asks Goku to help her find her brother who was apparently experimented on by the military and transformed into an incredibly powerful being with a gravity weapon, now missing.
The individual videos made for good cases and it’s honestly a shame none were produced beyond these. We get crazy fights with robot bird-monsters, beautiful cyberpunk scenery, advanced weaponry, eviscerated bikers, and the coolest Corvette you’ll ever see. With some exceptions, OAV franchises didn’t really go beyond 3 volumes unless attached to a pre-existing large property like Macross or Gundam. These two were eventually picked up for American distribution by Urban Vision, who produced a relatively decent English track. There weren’t really any glaring bad or good performances. However, the company only released these OAVs on VHS tapes and never to DVD. The original manga got a partial release in the U.S. by ComicsOne
In the years following the OAVs being released in Japan, both men too totally different directions with their careers. Creator Buichi Terasawa oversaw the adaptation of a third manga, Raven Tengu Kabuto, which focused on a high tech hero in feudal Japan. The series retained his usual taste for beautiful women infused with the scenery and the dashing hero who travels through Japan having adventures, fighting monsters and bedding the babes. The manga was a success and there was an OAV with a 30-episode TV adaptation that followed. (Thanks, Justin!) He went back to his longtime hero Cobra and released new volumes which were colored with an experimental computer process, yielding gorgeous artwork as a result. These manga were later adapted as the OAVs Cobra: The Psychogun and Cobra: Time Drive. Subsequently, a full series entitled Cobra: The Animation was broadcast on TV.
Yoshiaki Kawajiri would go continue to have a successful career as a director on various sci-fi and horror works. The criminally underrated Cyber City Oedo 808 is very similar to Goku Midnight Eye with its cyberpunk noir aesthetic. After this, he garnered international acclaim for the feature film The Wind Ninja Chronicles, later shortened to Ninja Scroll. He also lent his slick talents to the OAV series Birdy The Mighty and the TV adaptation of CLAMP’s manga, X. Kawajiri would also get high regard adapting Hideyuki Kikuchi’s novel Demon Death Chase into Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, in conjunction with Madhouse and Urban Vision. It is said he also directed the final short of the Batman: Gotham Knight anthology movie where the Dark Knight faces Deadshot, but had his name removed due to creative differences.
As I said, it really is a shame more of these videos weren’t produced as Goku Midnight Eye falls into the same realm of what-ifs as the Crusher Joe OAVs and the original Bubblegum Crisis series in that regard. It wasn’t too much of an influence but fits neatly in the realm of sci-fi OAVs for guys, with better quality than many others of the late 80s / early 90s 2D paints-on-cel era. Recently, Discotek Media acquired the license for U.S. R1 DVD release and included the initial press conference with Terasawa and Kawajiri as well as a separate interview video. The overall disc quality itself is pretty good. The British dub produced by Manga UK is on here and I have to say their actor for Goku himself sounds a bit smoother than the rough-edged American actor. Currently, you can buy the DVD or as of press time, stream the videos (American dub only) on Amazon Prime.