Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Note: Given the historic and joyful occasion that happened only hours ago, I'm too happy right now to subject myself to the levels of torture normally required to write a Buried Garbage column. So, this week you're getting something tepid and at least mildly entertaining, especially if you have friends and/or a drinking problem. Enjoy.
Making a show that combines mecha and feudal Japan is something akin to making a show about cavemen in space. There is an ever-so-slight chance at genius there, but odds are far, far better that you'll just end up with an unholy piece of junk that will be, at best, unintentionally funny. The reason for this is simple: it's really, really stupid. When your story idea is about on par with what your average ADHD-afflicted third grader comes up with during hours-long sessions of making mouth noises while crushing together mismatched action figures, you have two choices: own up to the stupidity and attempt to have fun being immature with it, or take yourself completely seriously in the naïve hope that if you pretend your work is amazing, everyone else will go along with you.
Raven Tengu Kabuto attempts to straddle the edge between these choices and ultimately ends up something that can only be enjoyed ironically, and preferably under the influence. As can be expected from original creator/director/storyboard artist/screenwriter Buichi Terasawa (Space Adventure Cobra, Goku: Midnight Eye), it stars a bad-ass who slices up a lot of people and saves a princess. The difference is, of course, that instead of in some cyberpunk or sci-fi world, Kabuto lives in the Edo period. He also has 80s hard rock hair. And wings. Yes, he has wings.
The anime opens with the title character returning to his old village in typical spaghetti western style (tumbleweeds and all). He drops in on a now-barren inn, whereupon the proprietors regurgitate "just how bad things have gotten" and tell him about the Villain: an evil sorceress named Tamamushi. Under her employ are Karakuri Jinnai (the inventor of her mecha force!!!) and the baddest mecha of them all, Rasetsubo. Rasetsubo has an evil face on his hand that, despite resembling the hand attached to a certain lettered vampire hunter, tends to act more like the adorable Nintendo mascot Kirby. Suck air. Blow HELLFIRE. Also making appearances are a mecha horse, numerous creepy mask bug robots, a helicopter carriage (still drawn by human slaves in most cases), and an edo-period time bomb with an LCD display that counts down in kanji.
And yet, despite all this silliness, Kabuto never really descends into self-parody, or even any sort of humor. Rather, it seems to revel in just how cliché and pointless it can get. Every plot element, character and dramatic moment is ripped off from myriad, far better anime and movies. Tamamushi even has the typical Evil Anime Woman laugh. And she takes off her clothes a lot. If one is at all familiar with anime, one can see nearly every twist and turn coming a million miles away.
It should go without saying that Kabuto wordlessly faces off against all of them along with numerous faceless minions, in the process showing off his manly midriff along with his foes' intestines. We never do find out much about him, why he kicks so much butt, and how in god's name he got those ridiculous retractable wings. Nonetheless, kick butt he does. Awaiting Kabuto's assistance is Princess Ran and her protector Kazuma (who is crucified in one scene). Ran, of course, remembers Kabuto from years ago, when he was but a boy wishing to kick more butt than he was then able to. But that's pretty much the extent of the character development we're treated to in the OAV's 40-minute running time.
Now, a few manga artists have successfully made the transition to anime director (Katsuhiro Otomo immediately comes to mind), but the jobs really don't have that much in common, and while Terasawa might have been a great manga artist, he pretty much falls on his face as a director. His visual thinking is clearly restrained by the limitations of a still page. The resulting visuals are awkwardly laid out; Terasawa barely ever moves the camera, and even when he does it has the feel of panning over a wide panel of manga. His sense of timing is clumsy and ham-fisted. That said, some of the artistry in Kabuto is quite impressive, but it feels like a succession of still images that move more than anime typically does. Indeed, Terasawa did not make anime direction his career. He played little role in the later Kabuto TV series, and only returned to anime direction earlier this year with a new Cobra OAV.
As with seemingly every stupid, macho bloody action OAV from the early 90s, Kabuto found its way onto American shores as an early release by LA Hero/US Renditions (under their "adult" imprint, Dark Image Entertainment). The subtitles are pretty good for the era, and no dub was released by them. However, Manga UK did release a dubbed version which I haven't yet seen.
Kabuto isn't horrible, but it's sure as hell not good. The experience can best be summed up as "relentlessly stupid", a doofy mish-mash of tired ideas that weren't really very good to begin with thrown in a blender with zero regard as to how they would taste together. As one of the key ingredients is "badass must save the princess", it was never going to taste very good anyway.
|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.|
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history