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Buried Garbage - Panzer Dragoon

by Justin Sevakis,

One-part 30-minute OAVs are almost never any good. Anime based on video games are almost never any good. In Panzer Dragoon, those factors have gotten together and had messy, disgusting sex. The result is indeed a very, very ugly baby.

Panzer Dragoon

Panzer Dragoon is an embarassment. Nearly half of the OAV's short running time is spent retelling the video game's then-breathtaking opening FMV sequence, but this time with dialogue and suck. Protagonist Kyle is still hunting sand scorpions when he spots the dragons fighting overhead, but this time he's having fun with his "LADY" Alita. As if channeling a dearth of ham-fisted action video game cliché, she gets Spirited Away on the backs of one of the two dragons, their tentacles (TENTACLES!?) attaching themselves to her lower half as if from a much dirtier anime. We never really figure out why, or how these dragons seem to have the ability to put people inside floating fantasy orbs.

Alita, being both a LADY and blind, is a completely limp and useless piece of flesh, but Kyle must get her back. He shouts dramatically, "What are you doing with my LADY?" and charges headfirst into battle, with the reckless abandon usually befitting a shonen manga hero. The other dragon that was fighting seems inclined to help him find his LADY, and seems to put up with his crappy personality.

Alita, meanwhile, is reduced to being a comatose shell riding atop the black dragon. It attacks a bunch of big blobby airships, the captain of which says he's seen something like this before. But alas, we are given no further data on what this fleet is or why we should care. The dragon's attack is also something of a mystery, as it seems to consist of unleashing a bunch of little mini dragons (which I presume, must all have tiny axes), but the actual act of unleashing happens during a cut-away so we don't really know where they came from.

The fleet crashes, and Kyle saves the captain. The Blue Dragon wants to KILL the captain. Kyle gives the dragon a stern talking-to for being just as bad as the other dragon. He drags the captain away (that one act being inexplicably told in flashback), who then reveals himself to have that evil disease that makes you kill people. Blue Dragon saves Kyle, and as a mark of his undying love and gratitude, Kyle decides to not kick his sole means of finding his LADY to the curb.

Jeez, do I even need to write what comes next? It's really so lame that it's hard for me to fathom that adults -- creative professionals, even -- wrote this dreck. What would be the single dumbest plot contrivance that would give this Mario-like mission even more dire importance? Well...

The Black Dragon activates a doomsday device.

There. You happy? Now, for those that weren't paying attention to video games in the mid 90s, Panzer Dragoon is not an RPG, but rather a "rail shooter", a shooting game where you basically walk along a straight path with no free control. You can only move forward as if you're on a rail. As such, there was essentially no plot to speak of. Sure, this evil dragon bent on destruction is right from the game, but... I don't know, you might want to actually explain WHY? Or give some background as to why we should CARE? Instead, this OAV has to crowbar in the tired old "I must save my LADY" plot device. It doesn't even fit.

Directed by relative newcomer Shinji Takagi (Samurai Pizza Cats) and adapted into a screenplay by Yousuke Kuroda (in his sleep, I hope) of Tenchi Muyo!, Gungrave and Honey and Clover fame, Panzer Dragoon is a complete stylistic mess from start to finish. First and foremost is its over-reliance on computer graphics, which at this point in history were simply not ready for prime time. Floating weightlessly in the sky are these "airships" that resemble... uh... embarrassing blob-shaped polygons. When they're hit and explode, parts float away in accordance with no law of physics I've experienced. The camera zooms, Star Wars style, through dirt canyons, which are completely untextured and flat looking. The whole thing reeks of early 90's graphics demos. It's amazing, but the anime adaptation actually looks quite a bit worse than the Sega Saturn video sequence it's based on.

Fairing almost as badly is the 2D art, which, despite having some mildly pleasant character designs, is also badly botched. The digital cels themselves weren't high resolution enough, so you can see jaggies and pixels... even in VHS. Apparently nobody had yet figured out to do computer compositing at 24 fps, so every pan has that cheap, over-smooth look. The music, featuring mostly themes used in the video game, sound like a MIDI file played through an old, cheap wavetable sound card. It also ends up significantly worse than the game.

I'm guessing this OAV was made as promotion for the video game, but I can't imagine this production doing much to bolster the image of the franchise. The OAV was produced by the aptly named General Entertainment, but with the assistance of the usually amazing Production I.G I suppose their involvement proved that the now-ubiquitous technology for digital animation just wasn't there yet in 1996.

ADV licensed Panzer Dragoon knowing exactly what they were getting: an easy way to make money off video game fans. This is evidenced by their never having releasing a subtitled VHS tape (ADV always released a subtitled VHS tape!) or a DVD. (This was in 1998, presumably to cash in on Panzer Dragoon Saga, the RPG that was becoming widely known for being the best game nobody would ever get to play.) Few complained about not having a subtitled version, and sub fans seemed to act as though they had been shown mercy.

Dubbed half-heartedly by Tristan MacAvery (a guy who once directed a handful of ADV dubs before a rather bitter departure), the English version features a truly ridiculous performance by Randy Sparks. Sparks speaks in such an affected, announcer-ish voice that he sounds like he's about to announce a monster truck pull ("SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY!"). Kim Sevier turns in a chirpy Alita. Both speak in the sort of wild, exaggerated manner that makes me imagine someone is putting worms down the back of their shirt.

I'm pretty sure watching Panzer Dragoon will make you dumber. One gets the same feeling from it as one does from reading an annoying fifth grader's attempt at fan fiction. Once you get past the wholesale plagiarism of every half-baked video game plot ever made, you realize that there simply is nothing else there. And then you want to throw things.

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:
Dubbed VHS is your only option (and let's face it, that works just fine for ridicule). I'm sure enough gamers bought the tape and felt sufficiently ripped off afterwards to cram it in their closet never to be watched again, so they're plentiful on places like Amazon Marketplace and half.com. Just don't watch it before an important test, okay?

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