Buried Garbage - Roots Search

by Justin Sevakis, Mar 20th 2008

I have Roots Search on laserdisc.

This procurement was entirely unintentional. You see, while I worked at CPM they had a few leftover LDs nobody wanted and I was all like "what the heck" and took them home with little regard to what was in the pile. But regardless how it got on my LD shelf, it's here now, and I have to atone for it.

My favorite thing about Roots Search is the cover. Over a muted, earthy and nearly photorealistic oil painting of a Japanese woman slumbering deep within a cryogenic container, the title is presented in that bold, rounded empowered 70s font of the groundbreaking mini-series Alex Haley's Roots.

Okay, now that that's out of the way we can completely forget about it, as it has nothing to do with the show at all.

In space, the Tolmeckius Research Center is conducting ESP experiments on a fashionable girl. Said fashionable girl is Moira, and her ESP power means she can SEE THE FUTURE! And we've only just met Moira and the research team when she starts predicting horrible, gory death for everyone. Just then, the research vessel rumbles as a ship in distress warps nearby. In response, Moira and Scott board the ship and discover that everyone onboard is DEAD.

...Except for one guy, a badly wounded dude named Buzz. They bring him back to the Tolmeckius, and discover that he, too, is quite fashionably dressed. Moira remarks that he is "badly wounded," but doesn't elaborate as to what said wounds might be. The doctor asks out loud what could have possibly done this. As if on queue, the bridge radios that they've found something strange... IT'S A MONSTER! It looks like Bigfoot after having been attacked by silkworms. (Please note that said monster's mouth is sideways, and looks very much like a vagina with teeth.) Moira, in her infinite wisdom, comes to the shocking realization that it's not human. At this point one might wonder why they brought this nightmarish creature that probably just murdered a ton of people on board their ship.

Upon seeing said monster the captain angrily shouts that it should be destroyed. He retreats to his room, whereupon he's met with strobe lights, a nervous breakdown, and the face of some guy he supposedly screwed over years ago. Nothing is really explained, but suffice it to say the captain meets his demise in much the same way Moira foresaw. Minutes later, Moira is with Scott asking the sort of "meaning of life" questions 10-year-olds ask their sunday school teacher. "Why are we here? What's the meaning of our lives?" Soon, Scott is seeing things too.

Buzz starts feeling communicative and tells Moira what should have been obvious by now: that monster invades your mind and kills you!!! And soon, the rest of the ship is dead, and it's just the two of them. It's a good thing that the two are hot for each other... because Moira has another one of her visions of the future!

And what a vision it is! In some bizarre pink blotchy space somewhere, she and Buzz are happy, nakie, and running in slow motion laughing. And there's some weird baby in a space bubble, clearly a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey by someone who hadn't seen the movie but perhaps a screenshot. Supposedly this means that the two will live. They struggle and run, and they BELIEVE that they're gonna make it out and have hot reproductive jungle love.

And it's a good thing she's so damn sure of herself, because THAT'S WHERE THE OAV ENDS. That's it. They're still fighting the alien, which has by now turned the entire ship into a gross veiny throbbing internal organ of some sort. We have no idea how they will get out, how they will survive, or how they will defeat the alien. It's not even a deus ex machina, because the story can't even be bothered to come up with any explanation at all!

Everything about the show is clumsy and amateurish, telltale signs that the young and inexperienced creative team had simply bit off way more than they could chew. The "musical" score reminds me of hearing kids bang on the cheap electric keyboards at Target, the writing is a hacky rip-off of myriad other sci-fi horror films (mostly Alien) and the animation has sense of neither timing nor perspective.

One of the biggest problems with Roots Search is how indescribably ugly it is. Even when it's aiming for attractiveness, such as with Moira's character design, small details just ruin any potential aesthetic value. She insists on wearing a big, stupid-looking hat. She's also got sausage fingers. Scott looks like a freaked-out drag queen, and has that weird Queen Amidala line on his lip for no apparent reason. Buzz just looks dirty, with specks all over his face even during the naked dream sequence. Seen together with Moira, the couple simply looks like they smell bad -- she seems like she probably reeks of maple syrup and ham, perhaps mingled with some cheap perfume marketed towards 12-year-olds; Buzz likely fills the room with the essence of spoiled milk and B.O.

As with most obscure and forgotten OAVs of this vintage, Roots Search is produced almost entirely by people who had short-lived careers. Character designer and animation supervisor Sanae Kobayashi only was a key animator on the similarly trashy Crystal Triangle and Guyver: Out of Control OAVs, while this seems to be the sole credit of director Hisashi Sugai. Strangely, the screenplay was written by Michiru Shimada, and by his already well-established track record of successes (such as Nobody's Boy Remi, Urusei Yatsura and later You're Under Arrest, Spirit of Wonder and One Piece) I can only guess that he did this over a lunch hour as a favor to someone he didn't really like.

If there's one person that Roots Search touched off the career of, it would be animation director Hiroshi Negishi. Negishi would later go onto create such celebrated works as Amazing Nurse Nanako (a show that played verbal, physical and sexual abuse for laughs), Bounty Dog (an entire OAV consisting of bored people painted green) and Suikoden: Demon Century (a bad fighting game anime that didn't even have a video game license). I think it's safe to say that this film would be a portent of things to come.

There is simply nothing good about Roots Search. It's stupid, ugly, badly dated, and annoying. Heck, even the subtitles are poorly done.

Obscure-O-Meter™
A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it:
The laserdisc I own might be impossible to find today, but the subtitled VHS can be had used online for dirt cheap. No dub was ever made, and no DVD release seems to have taken place in any country, thus sparing the digital generation from having to see it. Heck, I couldn't even find evidence of a Japanese laserdisc.

I did, however, find a copy of the original soundtrack on vinyl. The song names included engrish gems like, "Countdown for the Breakout", "Smell of the Blood" and my personal favorite, "Scratch my Breast."


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