Buried Garbage - Suikoden Demon Century

by Justin Sevakis, Apr 24th 2008

ap·pall·ing [uh-paw-ling]. adj. Inspiring horror, dismay, or disgust. i.e. living under appalling conditions.

- Merriam-Webster.com

There is no sport in ridiculing anime that came from a video game. They are all, with seldom an exception, hackneyed and ridiculous; the inbred love-child of design-by-committee storytelling and adherence to flimsy concepts never meant to support a work of narrative fiction.

However, in the case of an original work so bereft of originality that it actually steals its inspiration from these blights on the genre, and proceeds to tell a story even less compelling and intelligent than its predecessors... Well, THAT, my friends, necessitates special mention!

Suikoden Demon Century has little to do with the moderately popular Playstation 1 RPG "Suikoden" (aside from being inspired by the same Chinese legend). Actually, it was based on a series of fourteen light novels by Hitoshi Yoshioka. I've not read these novels (nor do I plan to). I admit, it's hard to wrap my head around somebody spending so much time reading something so desperately hackneyed and dull.

We meet our protagonist Takateru, a scruffy looking young man from the countryside (we know this because every other character constantly refers to him as a hick, whether they've met him already or not) just as he's wandering into The Hoodlum Café. Takateru has a Kenshin scar. He's looking for his sister, and this is his first stop. Of course, not only does everybody know exactly who he's talking about and who kidnapped her immediately, but they all start acting evasive. “Listen, kid. Give up. You're in over your head.” Everybody, that is, except for that attractive lady playing the piano over there...

One ridiculous unprovoked fight with the club bouncer later (which, as must be inevitable when fighting another Obvious Good Guy, descends into manly discussion of fighting technique), the gang of regulars is ready to spill: she's been kidnapped by the Evil and Dastardly Koryukai Crime Syndicate. The Koryukai's head honcho Amamoto is one of those Evil Dudes who likes killing people for fun. To Takateru, Amamoto sounds like the final boss a fun fight, so he goes off to search for him. Piano lady Miyuki (who reveals himself to be a drag queen) comes along to annoy him.

Inevitably they find Koryukai henchmen picking on children and destroying their flowers. Takateru and Miyuki bond over kicking ass, while the kids serve the requirement of introducing the priest and nun playable characters. They run an orphanage (guess what happens to The Orphanage!!!) and are also caring for the crazy old monk playable character. Takateru and Miyuki meet them and, clearly having nothing else to do, decide that a side adventure would be the perfect way to build up exp. points.

Almost every aspect of Suikoden Demon Century is shamelessly derivative and cliché. As if to prove it, the entire show takes place in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo that apparently is home to demons. We never see these demons, but the crazy old monk playable character tells us they're out there. He also tells us that all of the legendary playable characters are coming together to make for One Awesome Final Battle!

In the last Buried Garbage I mentioned that Roots Search was the debut of director Hiroshi Negishi, who gave us such wonderful works as Amazing Nurse Nanako and Bounty Dog. Here, Negishi doesn't let the clear lack of direction or pointless story elements get in the way of delivering his mediocre OAV. He actually did a pretty nice job in some respects. And I mean that seriously. The thing is, Suikoden actually has pretty decent animation. The choreography is solid, the motion is fluid, and the characters tend to stick fairly close to their model sheets. That's fine. Full points in that category.

The problem is purely with the story. Had this originated from a video game, some of the show's finer points might be understandable: the whole raison d'être of the OAV would be to drive toy sales by making each of the playable and marketable characters enough screen time to remind the audience to buy toys. The thing is, there are no toys... and no game... and no franchise. So why, exactly, is this such a forced attempt to parade fighting characters in front of the screen with only the flimsiest of back story and motivation supporting them?

Regular readers might be thinking at this point, "wait a minute! That story sounds pretty much identical to Virtua Fighter... which you liked!" Well, the words may be the same, but certainly not the music. Virtua Fighter was self-aware and firmly tongue-in-cheek, concentrating on making its characters likable and nuanced. Suikoden, meanwhile, takes itself completely seriously, simply because it requires less thought than being funny. It's simply a less-evolved life form. (I mean, how many shows can have a shirtless, beefy Catholic priest shooting heavy artillery with a nun driving the jeep and not make a joke out it?)

I'm firmly of the belief that offensive jokes are only offensive if they're not funny. And Suikoden does try for laughs. It seldom succeeds. I may not be offended by Catholic priest references, but one aspect did actually offend me: how it tosses in gender confused Miyuki purely for cheap "OMG!! It's a GAY" laughs. She's one of the most offensive depictions of transgendered people I've seen in anime. It's crass jerk humor, with not a drop of intelligence behind it.

If the show itself makes the viewer squirm with intestinal discomfort, its English dub will make said viewer soil his pants completely. An early production by ADV's Matt Greenfield, the thing sounds like a fan-dub made by bored teenagers and subsequently posted on YouTube. Voice actors sound like they're trying extra hard to sound goofy and funny, but it all comes off as amateurish and stupid; the sort of talent on display here is roughly on par with the time my elementary school teachers and principal decided to wear purple garbage bags and pretend to be the California Raisins. Even ADV regular Spike Spencer hams it up to horrid effect, particularly when he's freaking out at Ms. Drag Queen. And of course, everybody grunts outlandishly, as if simultaneously farting and throwing chi.

I suppose that it could just be a coincidence that Suikoden Demon Century came out around the same time as the Playstation game. Maybe. I can only imagine the thousands of fans of the video game, descending on this anime thinking it's an adaptation, only to walk away completely disappointed. I'll give both Victor and ADV the benefit of the doubt and hope that any perceived "switcheroo" was unintentional.

Nonetheless, Suikoden is appalling. It is the pinnacle of lazy storytelling; the end result of commercialism without the actual commercial appeal. It's as painfully insulting to one's intelligence as Tekken or Battle Arena Toshinden, but without the excuse of being a video game tie-in dictated by committee planning and corporate branding. Still, compared to the books we got off easy. Apparently there are 108 "stars" (or fighters) in the entire Suikoden story. Having 108 badly developed fighting game characters sure sounds like one amazing reading experience to me.

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:
Despite having been solicited briefly, a DVD release of Suikoden Demon Century never materialized. However, ADV managed to sell so many units on VHS to confused fans of the RPG that used copies can now be had online for less than a dollar. Try half.com or Amazon Marketplace.


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