Buried Garbage - Dog Soldier

by Justin Sevakis, Jul 3rd 2008

Dog Soldier is one of those old OAVs that old school anime fans love to hate. It's usually mentioned alongside other less-than-stellar early releases from CPM, like Crystal Triangle, Explorer Woman Ray and The Humanoid. And, like those other titles, Dog Soldier is, in fact, pretty awful.

I can imagine the pitch meeting for Dog Soldier, where I'm sure somebody must have said, "it's like City Hunter as Rambo!" Early scenes betray this pretty easily, making the protagonist, a large hulking man with a bad haircut, a gigantic pervert at the most inappropriate times and borderline-superhuman when it's necessary. They even cast Akira Kamiya as said City Hunter clone, named John Kyosuke Hiba. Had Dog Soldier simply regurgitated that series premise in a jungle or something (let's face it, Ryo Saeba isn't exactly a hard act to imitate), this OAV might have been almost passible. Alas, these antics are only enough to satisfy its creators for a few minutes before they decide to reach for something completely outside their level of ability.

We meet Hiba and his meat-head friend Fudou when they're busy toiling away at their construction site, spouting helpful expository dialogue about Hiba's unnecessary and irrelevant back story. Their information comes to an end when a truck barrels through the area, along with a helicopter. People in said truck start shooting at the helicopter, which fires back and kills a bunch of Hiba's coworkers. There's a blond woman inside the helicopter, so as it takes off he jumps and grabs hold of the helicopter and enjoys the view up her skirt. She's carrying a bacterial weapon in a suitcase.

Joy. Hiba and Fudou are detained and watch impotently while the woman stabs her assailants and runs away in a hail of gunfire. The two are taken in by a shadowy guy that they know (and we don't) who explains what's at stake and who's behind it: an evil dude named Phantom. The woman must have been Phantom's agent.

Turns out Hiba, who grew up in America, is old childhood friends with both of them. (You know, America being such a small place and all.) Hiba meets with the woman (her name is Cathy), who claims that she was mislead by the Pentagon, and that she was really carrying the cure for AIDS. And Phantom wants in on this little game of international intrigue.

What follows is an indescribably dumb game of cat and mouse between Hiba and Phantom. Phantom, a guy who owns a private island, an army and a bunch of anger because his parents were killed at some point, decides he's going to be evil and take care of his old childhood friend all in one fell swoop. A FINAL BATTLE ensues!

The producers of Dog Soldier made the mistake of hiring renegade anime writer Shou Aikawa. This is the same Shou Aikawa that would later pen Twelve Kingdoms and Fullmetal Alchemist, but this is when he was young and really angry and churning out titles like Urotsukidoji, Angel Cop and Violence Jack. Aikawa was clearly not happy making a stupid comedy and wanted to say something. And say something he did. Dog Soldier is clearly a screed against American weapons build-up during the cold war. In fact, it says so outright. The thing is, the story is so full of holes, so poorly constructed and clumsy that any point is completely negated by the effort required to make sense of things.

But far more deadly is a general sense of malaise that seems to permeate the entire OAV. Director Hiroyuki Ebata doesn't manage to build an ounce of tension or excitement... and having seen one of his only other directorial works -- the early CLAMP OAV RG Veda -- I am going to guess that he's a big part of the problem. The action scenes are so poorly laid out that key moments, such as a knife getting knocked out of someone's hands during a fight, happen off-screen. We get into a handful of flashbacks meant to fill the viewer with angst and pathos, but really only succeed in being ridiculous. We should feel bad about how things turned out, but the characters are so poorly defined and their motivations so illogical that by this point we're just confused. And we want this misery to end.

One can get a whiff of Aikawa's classic anti-Americanism and his anger at the man from Dog Soldier. But one would likely be paying more attention to Phantom somehow still being able to talk about revenge after Hiba plunges a KNIFE IN THE GUY'S FOREHEAD. Despite all the action desperately trying to get our attention, Dog Soldier isn't interesting in the slightest. The animation is ass (even by 1989 standards) and even with a short 45 minute running time, the mind wanders to other topics well before the end credits roll.

I saw the VHS tape of Dog Soldier sitting on the shelf of nearly every rental shop that stocked anime during my otaku formative years, but its alarmingly ugly box cover repelled me. The back-of-box description never seemed very interesting either. Something about it just said, "stay away. Stay far away." It wasn't until years later, when I was exploring the nether regions of CPM's back catalog did I finally take a look.

It wasn't the worst thing I found, but boy did it come close. It wasn't heinous enough to be funny or entertaining in an ironic way, it simply tried and failed. Yet another example of stuff that got produced during the economic bubble that should never have gotten funding in the first place.

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:
On subtitled VHS, Dog Soldier was everywhere in the early days of anime, including almost every Blockbuster Video in the country. Previously viewed copies are easy to find for dirt cheap on half.com and Amazon Marketplace. There's a laserdisc of this release as well. Much more rare is the VHS dubbed version, a mediocre and completely non-noteworthy production by Vancouver-based Ocean Group. No other country has bothered with a release of Dog Soldier to my knowledge, and nobody's released a DVD. I'm sure we'll live.

Justin will be off next week, recovering from the exhausting fiesta of Anime Expo. He'll be back with a new Buried Treasure the week after that.

Screenshots © 1989 MOVIC/Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.


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