Buried Treasure
Bobby's In Deep

by Justin Sevakis,
Somewhere between the crass commercialism of an anime meant to sell toys and the unmarketable art of an experimental work lies the ultra-rare film “Bobby ni Kubittake”, or “Bobby's in Deep” (also known by its official English title “Bobby's Girl”). On one hand, it's an obvious vehicle for a freshly debuted idol singer, and a ploy to get his associated fangirls to go to the movies and swoon. On the other, it's one of Madhouse's most accomplished early works, and features some of the most gorgeous sequences I've seen animated entirely by hand.

The “Bobby” referred to in the title is actually 17-year-old Akihiko Nomura, an underachieving high school kid with a deep love for motorcycles. His grades are failing, and his father – traditional and strict (but who must have also at some point gave in and allowed him to have a motorcycle) is trying everything he can think of to get the kid to apply for college. His mother is so silent, she might as well not even exist. Really, his support system lies entirely in his twinkle-toed little sister, who's nosy but cheers him on in her own way.

Bobby really does little else but work on his bike. He cleans his bike. He tunes up his bike. He rides his bike. One would call him a motorcycle otaku. His most recent achievement seems to have been getting photos of himself on a road trip printed in a motorcyclist hobby magazine. This leads to an unexpected result: a girl his age, who picked up that issue on a whim, decides to write him a letter. A long, rambling letter, but dreamily romantic just the same. Bobby admits to his sister that he's never gotten a letter from a girl before. He writes back, "I got your letter. I'm happy cause it was from a girl."

Bobby is not a well-rounded kid. He barely speaks – even to his own family – and the “letters” he writes back to the mystery girl (usually consisting of a single sentence or so) make me wonder if he's illiterate, or even slightly autistic. His obsession is all-consuming, to the point where he happily quits school to work at a biker bar. Of course, his father, at a loss, kicks him out of the house. Staying with a friend, he's delighted when his female pen pal says she'll call him. On that day, his boss at the bar decides to take him to a motocross track. But that's a day that wouldn't end in a way that anybody would expect.

There's a lot to puzzle about in Bobby's in Deep. It's bewitching, in a way, because it's this fleeting look at the life of a troubled youngster, and while we're not really given enough information to make any sort of solid conclusions about what sort of person he really is, we can remark about the influences on his life, and what is important to him. If my theory is correct and the boy is indeed as simple as he seems, that may be all there is to examine. It's a fascinating look at the obsessions of a teenage mind.

I can't decide what I think about the ending. On some level, it feels like a cop-out; an easy way out of a story that didn't really even require a way out in the first place. On another level, it reminded me of the Kate Chopin book “The Awakening”, a fitting fall-off after an orgasm of delight by someone ill equipped to handle life. Make no mistake, Bobby's been on a decline for quite some time, and there's little doubt about the cause of his failure.

Manga artist Akimi Yoshida makes her sole mark on the anime world by handling character design (and by the looks of things, some of the “graffiti” montages) in the film, which makes for something of a unique look. Like her groundbreaking manga Banana Fish (which regrettably featured such a ludicrous concept of New York that, as a New Yorker, I found it impossible to take seriously) Yoshida uses simple lines that remind me a bit of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's work on Wings of Honneamise. Her trademark “poof” hairdos on the guys and boyish haircuts on girls remind one that this is the 80's.

I must confess that I'm unfamiliar with much of Director Toshiro Hirata's other work, (the only two I've seen are Barefoot Gen 2 and Pet Shop of Horrors – both of which bare so little resemblance to this or each other that any comparison is pretty worthless), but here he directs like a serious music video, rich with detail and mood. Heavy emphasis is placed on the little things that make teenaged life surreal, like the summer's morning haze in the city, while the narrative is as flighty as its protagonist's attention span.

But really, it's animator and future anime super-talent Koji Morimoto who really steals the show. The last three minutes of the film is an absolutely breathtaking point of view sequence from Bobby's motorcycle. Bearing Morimoto's trademark waviness and sun flares, the nearly 100% pen-and-ink sequence is entirely moving-camera, turning corners and watching buildings flutter by in gentle impressionistic strokes. The film is worth seeing for this sequence alone.

The weakest part of the film, really, is then-newbie idol singer Hironobu Nomura, who, as Bobby, is as emotive as a wet cardboard box. Nomura also contributed a few songs, including a pleasant pop song “Bobby ni Rock and Roll”, which plays as a featured song towards the end of the film. Another ballad closes the piece that is slow and drippy in a painful way. It's not even good as 80's camp, and makes me wonder who really paid money to listen to crap like that back then. Nomura apparently made his debut the year before after winning a contest. He never found success as an idol, and currently makes a living as a TV actor. Hopefully his skills have improved over the last two decades.

Bobby's in Deep was animated and released as a double feature with Rintaro's epic Dagger of Ka'mui in 1985. A laserdisc and VHS/Beta release followed, but no reissue has taken place since. This makes Bobby's in Deep one of the rarer entries in the Buried Treasure catalog.

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.

How to Get It: Aside from trying to hunt down the (very rare) laserdisc, there is little hope of ever getting your hands on a legal copy of this film. No fansub has been ever completed to date, to my knowledge. Luckily, the very skilled people behind the recent TO-Y fan restoration have mentioned that this film is in their pipeline. Lucky, since the laserdisc is possibly one of the poorest quality transfers I've ever seen. The film looks like it has a white sheen over it, like it's being shot through a dirty lens. Clearly, it needs all the love it can get.

Screenshots © Yoshio Kataoka/Haruki Kadokawa Films.

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