Reviewby Theron Martin,
Collection 1 DVD
Amongst the world of criminals and law enforcement, there is one name which almost universally commands fear and respect: Golgo 13. He is Duke Togo, a Japanese national who is regarded by those “in the know” as the world's premier assassin, a man who can pull off even seemingly impossible shots, draw as fast as any man alive, and execute his assignments with unshakable professionalism, in the process never leaving enough evidence to get himself caught. If you have three million dollars then he could be your man – just don't ever stand behind him if you value your life!
In this set, missions he undertakes include knocking off various organized crime figures, breaking a death row inmate out of prison (with ulterior motives, of course), taking out a star athlete in the middle of a game, shooting a politician in the middle of a rally, doing some dirty work for branches of the U.S. government, and sabotaging a violin player in the middle of the performance. Along the way he must contend with wary mafia enforcers, a rival assassin, and a legendary paparazzi intent on making a shot of Golgo 13 “in the act” his retirement masterpiece.
Back during his pre-Governator days, Arnold Schwarzenegger once explained to a late-night talk show host the simple, iconic appeal of his Terminator character: “at some point, everyone wants to be a Terminator,” with the power to coldly and unstoppably mow down any opposition and obstructions in one's path. This goes a long way towards explaining how a character so utterly devoid of personality as Duke Togo (really, the only difference between him and the Terminator is that Togo occasionally gets laid) has stood as the star of a franchise that has kept pumping out material since 1968, especially when you consider that the intended primary audience is older men. What could have more appeal to a salaryman who has to put up with crap at his business every day than a hero who is the consummate professional, one who never wavers in his commitment, has unbeatable skill, adeptly avoids ever getting caught, takes no crap from anyone, and even sometimes has the ladies falling over him, too?
Those who do not connect to that kind of appeal are likely to tire of this series fairly quickly, as the first thirteen episodes are entirely episodic and depend heavily on such appreciation for their entertainment value; there is zero sense of a bigger picture or ongoing plot here and so far only one character beyond Togo has even appeared in more than one episode. Although execution may vary, the formula for the episodes stays fairly consistent: Golgo 13 gets a mission from a client, generally involving killing someone in circumstances that are nigh-impossible to carry out. As either part of the set-up or follow-through for the job, Golgo must outwit someone intent on stopping him, catching him in the act, or trying to pin the assassination on him after the fact. Occasionally other complications may come up, such as his client getting killed before he can take out the target, a woman getting involved, or having to break out of prison, and the writers do at least try to provide a broad variety of scenarios, but the series can only use the “kill off mobsters despite their protection” gimmick so many times before it gets old.
What saves the series from morbid mundanity – at least so far – are the details involved in carrying out each hit. The meticulous planning which goes into Golgo's jobs can be fascinating, especially the thoroughness with which Golgo sets up distractions and clever ways to prevent authorities from pinning anything on him even though they know he did it; think about this series as the anti-CSI. (And yes, there even is a straight-up CSI-flavored episode in this set, too.) That is ultimately even more impressive than Golgo's formidable 0.17 second draw-and-fire time or his uncanny accuracy. The series also wisely focuses many of the episodes more on the central guest characters than Golgo, since bare concrete block walls have more personality than him.
The caliber of the missions varies greatly. The best one in this set, the one involving shooting out the G string of a violin virtuoso while he's playing in a concert, succeeds despite the fact that it is also the only episode where no one gets killed, and for reasons that the viewer might not initially expect. The worst is probably the CSI episode, which is also the episode about the football star getting whacked in the midst of making a play; while a neat concept, too many elements in that story are too oversimplified to be credible. In a few other places logic breaks down if pushed a bit, such as one episode where Duke Togo is allegedly quarantined on suspicion of exposure to cholera and yet seems able to regularly have visitors despite the “quarantine,” but those instances are generally not fatal. Don't expect any episodes where women get any kind of favorable depiction, either.
Animation for the series is provided by The Answer Studio Co., Ltd., whose other lead production credits of major note are co-productions on Flag and the recent U.S. Transformers cartoon. It depicts nearly all of its male characters as beefy (whether chubby or athletic), square-jawed, and thuggish-looking, with the effort to design a star football player actually coming out looking more like a caricature. The few women that appear are sexpots, but they are almost never on the screen for long. Duke Togo is given exactly one expression, which never changes except for a slight squint, though guest stars and supporting characters can be much more demonstrative. The animation in general is nothing special, and in fact looks awkward when it tries to do anything elaborate, such as the football scene or the scenes of violin playing (although in the latter case the animation does not actually make a serious effort). The emphasis on split-second shots rather than sustained action saves the series from wasting some pretty good background visuals and respectable character renderings. Though not as in-your-face as in recent gorefests, the graphic violence content is fairly high, with a bit of nudity and sexual content also creeping in to help support the TV-MA rating.
“Take the Wave” by naifu is a solid and fitting rock number for opening each episode, while the slower, sexier “Glass Highway” by doa closes out each episode. The soundtrack in between is adequate without being obtrusive or in any other way attention-worthy.
Unlike nearly all other Sentai Filmworks first-run releases to date, this one actually has an English dub, and it is one that even sub fans might find satisfying. The English script stays reasonably close except for juicing it up with a bit more swearing, but the performances are what sell this one. The Stephen Foster-directed effort makes a concerted effort to give various bad guys and investigators attitudes, accents, and speech affectations that are quite appropriate for English interpretations of such characters without straying into caricature. (Well, except for one or two occasions – the Irish styling on the one prison guard was a bit much.) The one legitimate complaint that might be made is that voice actors doing the guest roles get recycled too frequently, but the dub does enough else well that such a minor flaw can be overlooked.
Sentai has not expanded on their typical Extras with this release, as all that is present are the clean opener and the closer with both versions of the visuals used in this set. The subtitles are devoid of errors, however.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the series so far is its avoidance of the Steven Segal Syndrome, which comes into play when heroes are so invincible that they never seem genuinely threatened and thus have a difficult time generating any real tension. Although Golgo gets close to that in some episodes, there is usually at least some tension over how he is going to avoid getting caught in a seemingly impossible situation or fascination over the technical details of the situation. That will not be enough to keep those seeking something that actually has an ongoing plot enthralled, but this is not a series well-suited to marathon viewing sessions anyway. As a once-a-week affair, this series would fare better.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Good variety of scenarios, solid English dub.
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