Mike wonders aloud which anime would be a good fit for the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Reviewby Mike Crandol, Jan 26th 2003
Bean Bandit is the Chicago underworld's most renowned “delivery boy”. Whatever the cargo, “The Road Buster” will get it where it needs to go…for the right price. After a successful getaway run for a couple of robbers, Bean and his partner Rally Vincent receive a request to escort a kidnapped girl safely back to her home. But the two couriers are being set up to take the wrap for the abduction, and soon they have Bean's nemesis Inspector Percy on their tail. Bean eventually puts the pieces together and traces the frameup back to Semmerling and Carrie, the two thieves who hired him the previous night. Semmerling's bagged the ransom money as well as the girl's father and is trying to make it out of town, but Bean is not about to let anyone make a fool out of the Road Buster.
Riding Bean creator Kenichi Sonoda really likes cars, guns, and American action movies. So when he was given free reign to create this 45-minute OAV, Sonoda packed it with as many cars, guns, and American action movie influences as humanly possible. The result is one of the ultimate guilty-pleasure anime, but it's so lovingly crafted it stands toe-to-toe with many more substantial works, and years later it is fondly remembered as a high water mark of the late 80s/early 90s OVA boom. It also has one of anime's most memorable heroes and some of the sweetest automobile animation ever put to paper.
There have been several “car anime” through the years, from the barely-animated Speed Racer to the computer-generated Initial D, but Riding Bean's incredible hand-drawn car chases make it the Holy Grail of the subgenre. Cars are some of the trickiest things to animate, and oftentimes the end results are awkward and unrealistic. Riding Bean makes it look like child's play. Inspector Percy's Shelby Cobra, Semmerling's BMW, Bean's custom “Buffalo”, an 18-wheeler rig and an army of patrol cars are all brought perfectly to life, and the amount of attention put into their animation is amazing. The climatic chase through downtown Chicago has an exhilarating energy and would do CHiPs and the Blues Brothers proud. Completing the “80s-road-movie” picture is a power-rock score that sounds like a lost Whitesnake album. It's laughably bad by today's standards but it fits this show's tone to a tee.
Oh yeah, there's a plot somewhere in all this, too. Something about Bean and Rally being set up to take the fall for a kidnapping scheme and Bean saving the day. It's not really important. Riding Bean coasts by on the strength of its animation and the great characters that inhabit its world. Bean Bandit is equal parts Lupin III and the Terminator, an invincible wrecking machine with a cocky attitude and a heart of gold. He even has his own Zenigata in the form of Inspector Percy, whose fanatic obsession with catching the Road Buster keeps things from getting too serious. Rally and Semmerling are solid supporting characters. But in the end this is Bean's show, and despite his ruthless facade he's ultimately most concerned about protecting the little girl caught in the middle of the fiasco. It's an important touch adds some genuine emotion to an otherwise superficial production. Fortunately this was not the last we would see of this wonderful character, though to date it remains his only anime appearance.
Readers of Kenichi Sonoda's later manga opus Gunsmith Cats will recognize many embryonic elements and ideas in Riding Bean that would be further developed in Cats. Bean himself was transplanted to the manga series pretty much as is. Sidekick Rally Vincent was redesigned and reconceived as an independent bounty hunter and given the starring role, but her penchant for firearms and precognitive sharpshooting abilities remained. Percy's '67 Shelby Cobra of course made a big comeback. And the lesbian thief/kidnapper Semmerling was reincarnated with few alterations as Gunsmith Cats mob boss Goldie.
Semmerling's underage lover is Riding Bean's one weak spot. There's nothing explicitly portrayed but the whole idea is so slimy you can feel it. Goldie keeps a whole harem of female love slaves in Gunsmith Cats but the question of their age is not addressed, and her obsession with adding Rally to her collection is an integral part of the story. The hinted-at sexual relationship between Semmerling and Carrie is totally unnecessary to Riding Bean's plot, and while Gunsmith Cats is far more sexually frank Riding Bean comes off as the sleazier of the two. It doesn't seriously detract from the enjoyment of the film, but it will leave a bad taste in some people's mouths and does little to dispel the stigmata that all anime are sexually perverted.
This was one of AnimEigo's first forays into English dubbing, and I'm happy to report they've since gotten much better! It's not the worst dub ever but only J. Patrick Lawlor's Bean is convincing. Supporting cast members are either too wooden (Rally, Semmerling) or too cartoonish (Percy), the children are too obviously not, and the minor characters sound like refugees from a fandub. Given the American setting it's a bit of a disappointment the dub is not better, but the Japanese track is the way to go when viewing this release. The original cast breathes way more life into their roles, and Naoko Matsui makes Rally a lot more fun….I think it's the way she says “Bean!” in that thick Japanese accent.
AnimEigo did do a good job with the DVD release, however. The video transfer looks better than average for its age; the colors are vivid and the picture is sharp. Extras consist of a still gallery and a trailer for the OAV, and the main menu features some attractive publicity art of the characters and is easy to navigate. Like many AnimEigo releases it is difficult to find in mainstream stores but is readily available at most online anime retailers.
Viewers who like their anime on the cute and friendly side should stay far away from Riding Bean, but anyone who appreciates an occasional indulgence of action for its own sake will eat this up. And any serious fan of animation will be impressed by the lifelike quality of the automobiles depicted herein. Speed Racer may be a “demon on wheels” but the Road Buster runs circles around the Mach 5 any day of the week.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : A+
Art : A
Music : C
+ incredible automobile animation, nonstop action, and a great main character
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