Buried Treasure
Cosmo Police JUSTY

by Justin Sevakis, Dec 17th 2009

This week's Buried Treasure is one that I had a tough time with -- I really couldn't decide whether it belonged in the "Garbage" pile or not. It's undeniably a very 80s piece with a heavy over-the-top cheese factor, and it's certainly not what it could have been. At the same time, it's not a bad little film, and certainly not terrible enough to ridicule. So I guess I'll call it treasure.

Justy Kaizard is a space police officer known all over the galaxy, one successful enough at bringing in intergalactic terrorists that the underground criminal syndicates are working hard to get rid of him. Justy is an esper, though that's not such a big deal -- tons of people around the cosmos are espers. But he's incredibly powerful, and fights really hard.

So hard, in fact, that he was able to recently take down a particularly powerful criminal esper, Magnum Vega. Unfortunately, Justy winds up being forced to kill Vega in front of the guy's young daughter, Astalis. Wracked with guilt, he adopts her, and when he's away on missions she's looked after by his sister. The story picks up a year later, and she's getting along great, far from the angry, rage-filled girl she was on the night her father fell. In fact, she's now pretty much your stereotypical moë clumsy-and-kinda-stupid-but-energetic girl. And she calls Justy "oniichan." Of course.

The thing was, she wasn't just filled with rage. The girl is actually a very powerful esper herself, and on that horrible night she came within a hair of killing Justy. Understandably, he's trying hard to help her forget the past. At the same time, the criminal underground is out to avenge their fallen comrade, and of course having Justy out of their hair certainly wouldn't hurt either. They also know about Astalis, and hijack a passenger spacecraft to get his attention. They want Astalis, for they know she could very well be Justy's undoing.

Cosmo Police Justy certainly has the makings of something great, but I must admit up front that the film itself is pretty deeply flawed, a victim of both circumstances (I've heard rumors that a TV series was simply not something Studio Pierrot could afford to produce at the time) and its own dated aesthetic. The story is so truncated that whole arcs are told in short flashbacks, and we never really get a clear picture of Justy's world or what's behind the villains. This is a story that really required a good 13 episodes or more to fully flesh out; a 45-minute mini-feature is clearly insufficient. The narrative really suffers.

Equally problematic is director Motosuke Takahashi's over-reliance on early-MTV era melodramatic crutches, typified by chirpy montages of Astalis prancing happily about to treacle-flavored music, followed by Justy looking emotionally torn under dramatic lighting. I'm sure that looked pretty cool in 1985, but the only word we have for that today is "cheese." The mix of ESP-related chi-throwing smackdowns and space opera dramatics are already so over-the-top that they require a very delicate narrative hand, or risk falling into ridiculousness. Takahashi (whose directorial work is mostly pretty obscure stuff, but includes The Laughing Target) simply succumbs to pure 80s melodrama as if it were his default position. For the cynical post-millennial fan, it's hard not to roll your eyes.

That said, the film is one that simply can't be dismissed entirely. There's good stuff here, even if the film doesn't live up to its potential. Visually, the film is incredibly inventive, making use of surreal optical effects and inventive mecha design. Some scenes are quite effective, and the film easily holds its own against many decently-budgeted works of the era. Moreover, Justy himself is simply an incredible character -- far from the stereotypical brash young warriors that so commonly populate lead roles of sci-fi anime. He's calm, level-headed and professional; a guy who's simply good at what he does. At the same time, it's easy to feel his torment. Astalis clearly has become very important to him, both as a person and as a symbol of his own redemption. At the same time, he seems quite aware that saving her was probably a mistake. Even looking at her, we see the regret in his eyes: not regret that he took her in, but that he had to put her in such a horrible situation in the first place.

Perhaps all of this might be more satisfying if I had read the manga, Tsuguo Okazaki's 5-book series that ran from 1981 to 1984. The series was an early title for Viz Comics, but was never released in its entirety (only the equivalent of 2 graphic novels, spread out into 9 comic books, were ever published). The film, which was released in Japan in 1985 as a double feature with the first part of the Area 88 anime, wisely doesn't attempt to cover the whole story, instead compressing a section of one particular story arc. Perhaps it was intended as a pilot, and Pierrot wanted to produce more, but it was simply not to be.

If anything in the film could be said to be prescient, it's Astalis, who is clearly the closest any character ever got to being moë in 1985. She's child-like and clumsy and falls down a lot. She doesn't seem to be too bright, but is always happy to see her big brother and is ready to greet him with a smile. It would be years until otaku would get PC games in which they could pick the right options to get her to take off her clothes, but it seems that even back then, otaku loved girls of this type. (Personally, I don't understand the appeal -- it just makes me think the poor girl has a developmental problem.) No doubt that if the series was rebooted today the following comiket would be filled with incredibly dirty comics starring her.

I'm in no position to talk, however, for Cosmo Police Justy bears me an even guiltier pleasure: the ending theme. A 4-minute opus of ludicrous 80s synth pop clearly inspired by the work of Jim Steinman (and filled with hilarious vintage drum machines), it's performed by the popular singer of the era Miki Asakura, who's unique among J-pop stars in that not only can she sing, but she has a powerful set of pipes. Even if the film itself doesn't hold much rewatch value for me, I find myself popping the film in just to listen to this horrible, wonderful song. I dream of one day singing it at karaoke.

In the end, it's hard to recommend Justy as anything more than a case study of what could have been. The story is there, and had there been more money and perhaps a more even-handed director at the helm we might have had another major work of science fiction. Some of the visuals are impressive even today, and Justy himself is a character that sticks in your memory as one of those heroes that you really get behind. In this era of rehashing old works of the past, I hope a show sponsor takes a second look at Justy, and perhaps attempts to resurrect it. Until that happens, all we're left with is a curiosity, and ultimately, a trifle.

How to get it: The film has never been released on DVD, so short of tracking down old VHS and LaserDisc imports, fansubs are your only option. Luckily there's a pretty high quality one in circulation. The original Viz translated comics, printed only in flopped, short comic book format, are long out of print but can be found on eBay without too much trouble.

Bonus: If you enjoy 80s cheese as much as I do, you will no doubt appreciate this Japanese cover of Bonnie Tyler's "Holdin' Out For A Hero" by the above mentioned Miki Asakura.

EDIT: Thanks for various forum members for the correction on this title not being a Viz launch title.


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