Buried Treasure
Dominion Tank Police

by Justin Sevakis,

When it comes to the first few anime I ever saw and enjoyed, I find it very difficult to be objective. There are simply too many memories attached to the show, too many personal experiences and early impressions to leave behind. On its own merits, Dominion Tank Police is a dated piece of work with some significant storytelling flaws, but in my eyes it will always be the raucous, gleefully immature action comedy I remember. After all, it was the first anime I'd ever seen that actually made sense.

Dominion Tank Police

Dominion Tank Police was made in 1988, and while it's certainly showing its age, it has a strange surrealistic charm all its own. The unique combination of slapstick comedy, bawdy sexuality (giant plastic phalluses!) and film noir aesthetics make for a strange, uniquely enjoyable show that still stands up quite well today.

Though based on Masamune Shirow's manga of the same name, the anime diverges quite a bit from the original work, instead deciding on a more character driven piece. In the Newport City section of a futuristic Kobe, Japan, the place basically looks unrecognizable from the city we know today. Buildings seem to be carved out of weird fungal shapes. Thanks to rampant air pollution, a potentially deadly bacteria cloud envelops the city. Crime, both organized and otherwise, is completely out of control, and almost as bad is the city's completely over-the-top destructive police force from hell, the Tank Police. Hated by peaceful citizens and criminals alike, the Tank Police regularly blow up buildings, kill people by accident and rack up millions of dollars in damage claims against the city.

Leona Ozaki is the newest member of the Tank Police, and as the story picks up, she's just introducing herself to her new co-workers. The force is made up of weirdos -- a psychopathic macho lieutenant, a stereotypical scientist nerd, a punk bodybuilder, a wannabe priest... and at the time she makes her entrance, the guys are interrogating a prisoner by stuffing a grenade into his mouth, and trying to hit balls into the precariously propped-up bucket tied to the pin. None of these guys take her very seriously at first (though fellow rookie Al does take a liking to her). Soon she's called out on her first mission while piloting squad leader Lieutenant Britain's gigantic tank. The target? A dangerous criminal named Buaku, and his former-stripper cat-girl henchmen, twins Annapuma and Unipuma.

As one might expect, she gets into trouble and totals her boss's tank. This is especially bad in the Tank Police, as their rule number one is "Love your tank like a brother." And so, using the wreckage from the Lieutenant's tank, she makes her own... a little tiny tank that handles like a motorcycle. She names it Bonaparte. And she loves the tank like a brother, if she happened to be in a really hot and heavy incestuous relationship with said brother.

Dominion Tank Police is full of what-the-hell moments like that. Along with a secret weapon consisting of plastic plates that turn into gigantic multicolored dildos, Annapuma and Unipuma's gigantic mane of 80s porn star hair, and the rest of the cast's propensity towards ridiculous violence, the show feels sometimes like a cross between an R-rated Looney Toons cartoon and a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. There are lots of odd little unexplained quirks that make the surrealism something almost quaint. Its age contributes to that too, I suppose.

One thing that old-school anime fans will find obvious is that Leona is essentially the same character (initially, at least) as Noa Izumi in Patlabor, a series that came out at literally a month earlier. Both are brash, cute red-haired tomboy types with a near-romantic infatuation for machinery and general cluelessness to the romantic advances of her most trusted male coworker. Both of them are also the only females in male-dominated environments, though this is made much more an issue in Tank Police, as Leona regularly encounters sexism on the job. Her initial tendencies towards things like mercy and compassion are beaten out of her pretty quickly, and she soon becomes the brigade's poster child for antisocial violent streaks. In a good way.

As for Buaku, the "criminal mastermind" behind heists like stealing balls of urine samples for a research hospital, he reveals himself to be much more human than one might have thought. Initially, the gang of Buaku and the cat sisters seem to exist purely for slapstick. These criminals come from the 1930's Hollywood screwball comedy school of criminal behavior, often konking each other on the head and and saying stupid things. But unexpectedly, things get deep. In the second episode we see Buaku's past as a tragic human cloning experiment, and his desperate attempt to recapture the parts of himself he thought he lost in his growth from human vegetable to cyber criminal... by way of stealing a very expensive painting of himself. If there's a true fault to the series, it's that this fascinating plot line is never literally or thematically hashed out.

Despite the many questions that go unanswered, The second act ends up being the insightful, intelligent one, whereas the first act merely works as a set-up for the series as a whole. Both parts are two episodes long, and are by entirely different crew. The first half is helmed, storyboarded and written by Kōichi Mashimo (most famous recently for the .hack series and Noir), while the second part is directed by Takaaki Ishiyama (who has plenty of storyboard credits, but little directorial work most fans would recognize). Strangely, the art direction is at its most impressive in the first part, when it's helmed by Mitsuharu Miyamae, a man whose talents have been squandered in poorly made hentai over the years.

The subtitled version of Dominion Tank Police was actually Central Park Media's first release (after the aborted ecchi OAV Minna Agechau), and in fact, early copies of the VHS share branding with BMG, who was doing distribution for them at the time. The English dub, released in 1992, was one of the many Manga UK/Central Park Media co-productions, and was recorded in London with Toni Barry as Leona, Sean Barrett as Lt. Britain and Marc Smith as Buaku. Though featuring plenty of swearing, the dub is surprisingly faithful, though I must admit that while Toni Barry sure sounds the part of a chirpy and energetic rookie, her voice does grate after a while. Barrett steals the show as Britain, and gets most of the OAV's laughs. Quirks of being written in British English and acted with American accents add to the show's bizarre charm.

Clean music and effects tracks weren't available for Tank Police, so Manga Video UK was forced to rescore and refoley the entire series from scratch. This wasn't something uncommon for them; over the years the company had replaced the music of many different anime in an effort to make them "cooler" for their perceived audience of testosterone-fueled teenagers. While I find the idea of replacing anime music for marketing reasons to be repugnant, I'm hard pressed to deny that in this case the replacement is a significant improvement over the original score. The moody synth score works much better with the sense of cyberpunk noir that the visuals convey (not to mention the slightly creepy aspect of the fungus-like buildings and a majority of the city's population walking around in masks). The original score knew it was being wacky, and Manga Video's music (composed by Paul Sanders, whose name is too common to be able to research, but was probably a prominent musician in London at the time) keeps a straight face, which makes the ludicrous proceedings that much more of a surprise. The opening song, the amusingly monotonous "Tank Police" is a decent euro-pop replacement for the 80's J-pop opening "Hot Dance In Cherry Moon", while the sexy dance theme that plays during the Puma sisters' strip act is even more sensual than the Japanese theme "Hey Boy". The ending theme is a moody, sensual ballad in early 90s synth style, a vast improvement over the circus-like original ending theme.

Dominion has been adapted into an anime several times, but never more successfully than in the original OAV. Years later a sequel, Crusher Police Dominion (released by Manga Video as "New Dominion Tank Police) takes place directly after the manga and doesn't have the surreal, noir edge of the original. Tank S.W.A.T., the cel-shaded CG OAV released in 2006, is an abomination and should not be mentioned in polite company. Shirow has since revisited the world of Dominion several times in manga form, but this OAV has a unique feel all its own. It's hard not to smile at the strangeness of it all.

I mentioned that Dominion Tank Police was the first anime I saw that actually made sense. When my sister and I discovered anime, we, like most new fans of our generation, were more or less dependent on what our local Blockbuster Video decided to carry. Our first experience was Project A-ko, and not knowing that it was A) a parody, and B) any of the shows it was referencing, it seemed like barely-coherent silliness, though we loved it just the same. Next was the bizarre and nonsensical Harmagedon (a film that only Japanese fans who remember it from their childhood insist is good). Tank Police was not only well-done, accessible and amusing, but got us in trouble with our parents when we showed it to friends.

Plus it had boobies. And when you're twelve, that's the only important thing.

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.

Where to get it:
Central Park Media's DVD of the OAV is possibly the most sloppily made disc in their entire catalog. Much of this comes from how the show was originally sold on VHS; the dubbed version was combined into two episodes (nothing was removed except credits, and the parts cut together quite naturally). Rather than attempt to do the same to the Japanese audio the episodes were preserved in their original 4-episode format, but not really. Sometimes including a preview for the next episode, sometimes not, sometimes including credits and sometimes not, the ending sequence is replaced with its English versions (which shrinks down the animation to about a quarter of a screen). The original Japanese ending theme is not included (the English song is used on both versions), and both tracks are reassembled messily, so that the edits are audible. The video doesn't look particularly good either (though that can be blamed on the age of the masters).

Now, I don't miss the original ending theme much (it's not a great song), but the sloppiness does bother me quite a bit. A Japanese DVD was released in 2002, but is now out of print, and as much as I like the show I don't see my self paying $90 for this boxed set. The series was released by Manga Video in other parts of the world, including on French DVD, but I have not seen these, or know if they restore the 4-episode format of the original.

So this CPM disc is passable at least, but it's out of print and getting rare. I saw copies going online for as much as $100, and the sequel series New Dominion Tank Police going for even more. If you're merely curious, used VHS copies are easy to find online.

Screenshots ©1988 Shirow Masamune/Seishinsya • Toshiba EMI.

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