Cyber City Oedo 808 (1990)
By: Michael McQueen on June 18, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL 4:3. English DD 2.0, Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 127 minutes
The Movie
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Starring: Bruce Martin, Sean Barrett, Daniel Flynn, Bob Sherman, Nigel Greaves
Screenplay: Akinori Endo, Jyuzo Mutsuki
Music: Kazuhiko Toyama
Country: Japan
Cyber City Oedo 808 is an anime cop-procedural show set in the year 2808 AD. Three convicted cyber-criminals, Sengoku, Gogul and Benten, serving over 300 years each, are delivered an ultimatum: rot in prison, or work for the cyber police as special agents. In exchange for each mission successfully accomplished, and each criminal successfully busted, the trio will receive a discount on their sentences, and the eventual prospect of freedom. The catch is that the police chief, Hasegawa, is a tad sadistic and has fitted his underlings with explosive dog-collars as an additional security measure. Never one to shy away from the opportunity to have some exploitative fun, Hasegawa frequently sets time limits on his agents' missions; if they don't complete it in time…BOOM.

Cyber City Oedo 808 is one of the earliest directorial efforts from Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and ran for only three episodes in 1990. The arc is roughly structured around different cases the team are working; each of the three episodes focuses on a single team member's investigation, whilst the other characters take a back seat. Interestingly, Cyber City Oedo 808 was initially intended to be a single-episode pilot that focused on Sengoku; however, the episode's popularity was encouraging, and two additional episodes where created. This accounts for the plot hole after episode one, where Sengoku attempts to assassinate Hasegawa and is supposedly killed by his explosive dog-collar. The episodes are "Time Bomb", "The Decoy" and "The Vampire" and concern themselves with typical SF/cyberpunk fodder like cyborgs, genetic tampering and electro-terrorism whilst throwing a few generic horror staples into the mix.

Time Bomb - The first episode wastes no time with back stories and other such clap-trap; Sengoku, Gogul and Benten all accept their new jobs and are quickly dispatched on a mission. This episode focuses on Sengoku, who sports a truly righteous jet-black mullet and Michael Jackson-style red leather jacket. When a cyber-terrorist hacks into Cyber City Skyscraper's mainframe and holds 50,000 people hostage, the team, aided by an incompetent robot sidekick, is dispatched to investigate and neutralise the threat. The actual target of the hijacking is an engineer who attempted to murder a co-worker, whom is now out for revenge. The cyber-terrorist turns out to be a zombie-controlled super computer, who tries to use a 30 gigawatt satellite laser canon to destroy the entire building…ah, the wonders of the future!

This first episode is the pilot that launched the other two and is by far the most dated in terms of animation. Sengoku's expletive-laden dialogue is worth many a laugh. This episodes classic anime quote: "Adios bozo, this time I'm downloading you straight to hell!"

The Decoy - This episode focuses on Gogul and his former partner, Sarah, who looks like Wonder Woman and speaks like The Nanny. Sarah lands herself in hot water when she downloads top secret information from the Japanese military about a new super-weapon, Project Molcos. It turns out that the Special Forces are putting the corpses of psychics into heavily armed robots, which look like a cross between the Terminator and Predator, in order to create a race of super-police. Worried that these illegally-manufactured corpse-bots will relace the cyber police, and leave him out of a job, Hasegawa gives Gogul eight hours to destroy Molcus.

The Vampire - Three episodes in and the Ozzy Osbourne meets Pat Benetar theme music is starting to sound pretty good. I was looking forward to this episode, as I hoped it would answer my question: is Benten a man or a woman? Given that he (I'm pretty sure it's 'he') first appeared in a puffy pink jacket, wearing lipstick and eye-shadow I was a tad confused…judging by his white New Romantic super-mullet, he's part poodle. Don't be fooled by his "so-androgynous-he's-practically-a-transvestite" appearance though; Benten has a fondness for severing limbs with piano wire.

Benten investigates a series of murders where the victims are found with two holes in their neck, drained of their blood. There's only one possible conclusion: vampires. The investigation takes a sinister (and downright ludicrous) turn when Benten travels to a cryogenic space station and is attacked by mechanised sabre-toothed tigers that shoot lasers out of their mouths. Good grief. The vampire turns out to be a woman named Remi, a former cryogenic patient who is a reanimated test subject for an 'immortality virus' that endows the infected with psychic abilities – the catch, of course, is that she now needs a continuous supply of fresh blood in order to survive. The culprit is an ageing geneticist who seeks eternal life; now that he knows his virus works, he infects himself and becomes a psychic vampire. This episode is probably the standout in terms of animation: the character models look a lot sharper and the backgrounds are more detailed – theres even a homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This episode's classic anime quote: "Get lost! You wouldn't recognise a goddamn vampire if one jumped up and bit you on the end of your fucking dick…so get off my back!" You tell 'im Benten! Damn straight.

Cyber City Oedo 808 is seventeen years old now, and it shows; almost painfully so. The animation is from a pre-CGI era when all the robots and explosion effects had to be hand-drawn, and it looks considerably dated when compared to anime releases from the last few years. C.C.O wears its cyberpunk influences on its sleeve, and the visuals explore a comic-book sensibility that recalls X-Men and 2000AD, which may be too quaint for contemporary tastes. In terms of fashion, New Romantic haircuts and Michael Jackson-style suits put a big fucking nail in the coffin of timelessness, but that's not to say the overall effect isn't without retro charm for anime veterans. However, chances are highly unlikely that C.C.O's DVD release will appeal to anybody but original fans and anime vets: the criminal fashion choices, cyberpunk visuals and bizarre plotlines involving vampires in space, zombie-controlled computers and psychic corpse-bots are the sort of things that turn most people off anime to begin with. Obsessive collectors, who simply must own everything with even a whiff of 'cult' about it, will find much to appreciate from the retro-trip, but everybody else will be slightly bemused: the plots verge on ridiculous; the characters are, in addition to silly-looking, one-dimensional; and in terms of influence on the anime genre, C.C.O is little more than a footnote in Yoshiaki Kawajiri's career. The DVD release seems little more than an exercise in esoterica to me, but I suppose that even something as minute as C.C.O is bound to attract a cult market nowadays.
Fashion jokes aside, I was surprised by the quality of the picture, which is presented in 4:3 non-anamorphic. Although the animation itself is a little grainy and occasionally blurry, the transfer is clean and clear. Funnily enough, the animation actually improves over the three episodes, and the character models become a little more sophisticated and colourful. However, there have been some major technological improvements to animation since 1990 and, consequently, most of the visuals look flat; even the best-looking episode, "The Vampire", looks tragically dated. Giving C.C.O a facelift wouldn't have hurt; hell, even widescreen would be a welcome addition.
Dukaduka* nertnuhnyow,nertnuhnyow* duhnuhnuhnuh* nertnuhnyow, nertnuhnyow*! ...this series has the best intro theme ever! Given that the sound effects aren't overly complicated, everything still sounds pretty sharp in Dolby 2.0 (Japanese and English audio options are provided); not exactly inspiring stuff, though. The sub-techno soundtrack is pretty dated as well.
Extra Features
I'm with Mr. Intolerance: the trailer for the film you just watched is not a special feature…neither are several other trailers for that matter. I realise that there may not have been enough extra material to stuff into the package, but I consider trailers and image galleries to be useless filler on a DVD. Fans of C.C.O will be pleased with Kawajiri's director commentary for "Time Bomb" and "The Decoy" episodes, plus a variety of pre-production sketches of the characters' preliminary design and various backgrounds (I'm a bit of a sucker for that kind of stuff, personally).
The Verdict
Kawajiri went onto much better things after this; credible projects like Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, the acclaimed Ninja Scroll, and The Animatrix: Program. Given his current status as a high-profile animation director, a renewed interest in his humble beginnings isn't surprising. However, these sorts of re-issues are only worth investigating if they've been repackaged with a bounty of worthwhile extra material (deleted scenes, alternate takes, interviews etc.) and given a visual/audio overhaul. No such effort has been put in here, unfortunately. Given that there are superior products on the market, C.C.O is really a fans/collectors-only proposition, and a disappointing one, at that; casual anime fans would do best to avoid.
Movie Score
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