Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
It should come as a surprise to nobody that a short OAV based on a strip mahjong video game would probably be one of the most mind-numbing pieces of animation Japan ever crapped out. There are actually several of these shows, and all of them make me feel like my brain is violently dry-heaving within my skull. The last one I saw was the nigh unwatchable 1990 OAV "Mahjong Battle Scramble." That was a long time ago, and the scars still remain.
I had seen a few minutes of Idol Fighter Su-Chi-Pai before, and it was bad enough to drive me from the room. So, for the task of writing this review I approached rewatching it with the sense of dread that one would normally reserve for the most vile of chores: something along the lines of removing fetid roadkill, or plunging an overflowing toilet. I rented the DVD from RentAnime.com and let it sit on my desk for over a month as I avoided the unpleasant task of watching it in its entirety. This morning, I finally did it. And it was everything I dreamed it would be.
Idol Fight Su•Chi•Pai was a fairly successful strip Mahjong video game franchise created by video game company Jaleco around 1994 or so. Originally for the Super Famicom, then the arcades, then finally Sega Saturn, PSX and 3DO, the game was a pretty simple affair featuring cute anime style mascot girls designed by Ken'ichi Sonoda, the artist famous for Bubblegum Crisis and Gunsmith Cats. As you defeated the computer with your mad Mahjong skills, you got to see more super-deformed 2D boob. I can only imagine that for lonely undersexed otaku, this was a gigantic treat. (One of them is a furry, BTW. More on that later.)
With something of a hit on their hands, JALECO got together with Nippon Columbia to jointly produce a one-shot promotional OAV. This sort of thing was fairly common back in the day; the video would be intended more as a promo piece for the games than any original artistic work. This OAV would be considered a sequel to the game, so it would be called Idol Fight Su•Chi•Pai 2.
As the game had pretty much zero narrative to speak of, the "2" was completely extraneous. Nearly the entire 28 minute running time is spent introducing the completely uninteresting female cast. This cast includes a bunny-alien that turns into a (still furry!) girl that steals uniforms, an abused maid that turns into a demonic S&M queen, a cyborg mercenary girl and a telekinetic girl that's an idol singer for no apparent reason. That's a lot of characters for such a short running time, and none of them are developed in any way past the fact that they exist.
Then there's Su•Chi•Pai herself, who's completely undeveloped. They all end up together trying to catch Monster, who is another buxom barely-dressed furrybait fantasy character appearing from nowhere. Monster apparently has a magical pai mahjong piece that grants wishes. The girls all want these pieces to make their wishes come true. A vicious battle ensues, with large splashes of blood coming from seemingly uninjured characters.
This is supposed to be a comedy, but every attempt falls so completely flat that it's difficult to even tell where the jokes are supposed to be. The timing is awkward and slow. The animation is awkward and cheap looking. And the character designs, since reworked from Sonoda's originals, have little charm or originality.
I must confess I don't understand this subgenre of anime, featuring cute girls with magical powers doing things that would be considered lame and cliché even by the standards of most 10-year-olds, and yet clearly aimed at an adult audience. If one is looking for a wank film there's actual porno out there for that. This... is just insulting. One feels demeaned when watching it, as if you'd just had an entire conversation over the phone, and upon hanging up you realize the person at the other end thought you were autistic.
So why on earth did Hirameki International chose this as one of their two initial (and only) anime releases? I suppose they saw the cute girls on the cover and saw the (incredibly weak) Sonoda tie-in, and likely a low price tag. It was released to North America and passed pretty much unnoticed. It never had a chance, even if Hirameki had good retail placement, which they didn't.
The really, truly amazing piece in the package, however, is the behind-the-scenes video. Inexplicably dubbed AND subtitled by Hirameki, the special is divided into four sections. The first one is a short narrated montage of all the Su•Chi•Pai video games. Though it's clearly a sales pitch, it at least gives the American viewer a clue as to what the hell they just sat through.
The second part is footage of the Su•Chi•Pai promotional event, which took place somewhere in Tokyo. The narrator mentions that it took place over New Year's, so "lots of people came out" (the footage shows no more than 8 or 9 of them). The voice actors, including Rika Matsumoto and Mika Kanai, come on stage briefly and answer mindless questions.
Q: Was there anything particularly difficult about this role?
A: No, not really. It was really easy.
Then, a Su•Chi•Pai cosplayer comes on stage and says that she's trying really hard to be an actress, and hopes everyone will play the game. We die a little inside as we flash back to her audition to be a cosplayer-for-hire, wherein the timid 16-year-old stutters to the producers that she likes cooking, and shows off her scrawny body in a really tiny bikini.
We then flash back to the event, where Mika Kanai sings the theme song to the game, a mildly pleasant though generic J-pop song. Just when we're realizing how visually boring this is, the video editor decides to get creative and BREAKS OUT THE CRAPPY 80S VIDEO EFFECTS!
It strobes, it stutters, it mosaics! But Kanai-san, though a decent singer, simply stands there on the empty stage. Who is producing this show? And who is attending?!
Lastly, we get a tour of the small studio at DARTS where the OAV is being animated, while director Yasunori Ide (whose career high point thus far is Please Teacher!) and the rest of the staff try really hard not to admit they're making complete crap. If you're used to "decoding" polite double-speak, it's pretty funny. Some of my favorite lines:
So it seems this OAV was pain for pretty much everybody involved. The behind-the-scenes special comes to an abrupt end with this inexplicable slate:
This was one of Hirameki International's first DVDs, and the crew clearly had a very tenuous grasp of how to make an anime DVD. I have no idea who produced or starred in the dub (it, along with everything else, is completely uncredited in English) but it's about on par with your average hentai dub. The dialogue isn't rewritten at all from the raw subtitle translation, and pretty much every line is read in an awkwardly timed, wooden manner. The subtitles are messy and poorly timed. But on the plus side, there's a free clock and calendar Windows app on the disc itself!
Apparently the program was edited to remove some nudity. I couldn't find any obvious edits, but anything that makes this OAV shorter can only be a good thing.
|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:
There was no DVD of this OAV in Japan, so the questionably made Hirameki DVD is pretty much all there is. It's out of print, but many specialty anime retailers are still stuck with a few copies, so if you really want it it's not going to be too hard to find.
Like every other overmilked Japanese franchise there's a fan book and a soundtrack CD out there, sure to turn up on used bookstore shelves all over Japan.