Buried Treasure
A.D. Police Files

by Justin Sevakis, Oct 23rd 2008

A.D. Police Files

A successful film doesn't necessarily have to succeed in what it sets out to do. This happens all the time with B-movies, which are often unintentionally funny, or unwittingly say something profound while trying to be silly or gross. Such is the case with A.D. Police Files, the ultra-violent, decadent and dark prequel OAV to Bubblegum Crisis.

A.D. Police Files (not to be confused with the more recent AD Police TV series) is trying to be a thrilling sci-fi cyberpunk series for adults. It never really succeeds in being particularly creative with its story constructs (to the point where one episode could be considered an outright rip-off), or groundbreaking in its depictions of a 21st Century Tokyo gone to hell. In fact, on the surface, A.D. Police Files is pretty forgettable. Just another early 90s ultraviolent OAV series produced on a shoestring budget that's all but forgotten today.

And yet, there's something more to A.D. Police Files. A kind of deep, gutteral desperation in its rendering that manifests itself in the artwork and somehow permeates the mood. It's in the little touches: the brush of a tongue against the back of a woman's lips, the political demonstration in the background being ignored by the characters onscreen. The cyberpunk crime-ridden city thing has been done to death, but there's seldom this much hopelessness behind it.

Despite being a Bubblegum Crisis spinoff, there's only one familiar character here, and that's detective Leon McNichol. Taking place some four years earlier, we meet Leon as a rookie on the force, and on his first rogue Boomer (android) case, a violent standoff in progress in front of a Chinese restaurant. The AD Police, who specialize in Boomer crime, move in to try and disarm the malfunctioning robot waitress, and one false move by Leon gets a teammate of his shot dead. Afterward, his partner Geena is distraught in the way that soldiers get distraught after losing "one more good friend". She doesn't hold it against him. "I don't expect nothin' from a rookie," she says.

But the Police Department is hesitant to pay off the guy's life insurance, as there is evidence that he was in financial trouble, and they're concerned he offed himself on purpose. The onus is on Leon and Geena to prove the thing really did go mad on its own, and while the two split up to research leads on illegally recycled Boomer parts, Leon unexpectedly meets someone from his past that is both the proof he needs, and the scariest trauma of his life: a boomer prostitute so beautiful that she looks human, and so damaged that she can't stop pursuing him. Even if it costs both of their lives.

Leon is only a peripheral character in The Ripper, the story of a young female cop named Iris who attempts to solve a grisly string of murders on an abandoned subway track that's become a haven for drugs and crime. An unknown attacker is carving the sexual organs out of prostitutes, and while the Police department is keen to hand the matter over to the A.D. Police, Iris is certain that the attacker is human. As luck would have it, she meets someone she has a feeling about: a tough business woman who's in utter anguish that her biomedically-replaced ladyparts can no longer be exchanged for human ones again.

The Man Who Bites His Tongue is the least of the three stories, a clear Robocop rip-off where the only thing left of an officer and one-time amateur boxer is his brain and his tongue; the rest of him had to be replaced with Boomer parts after he was critically injured. The guy is miserable (biting his tongue is the only thing that reminds him of the stimulation he once felt with his skin), and his surgeon tries her best to make him more... comfortable (by basically using him as a giant stripper pole). But it's no use... he can't feel anything, and can only reflect back on his life back when he was human.

Sex is a common theme in A.D. Police, but it's hardly the enjoyable kind. As is often the case in the future, everyone's pretty depressed, and sex, like booze and drugs, are a way to mop up their unfulfilled needs at the end of the day. That approach pretty much sums up the whole feel of the series: there's no hint of the wide-eyed gawking at cityscapes that one normally gets from cyberpunk, itself a descendant of film noir. Rather, it prefers to marinate among the rats, the homeless, the clinically unhappy. After all, it's a police story, and the job of a police officer is often to deal with humanity at its worst, its most desperate.

Unfortunately, 30 minutes is way too short a time for each of these stories (The Ripper feels especially constrained), and consequently they seem too pat and simplistic in their main narratives. The low budget also rears its ugly head once in a while, most noticeable when art styles from clearly different artists don't match. And yet, there's some remarkably beautiful moments. There are shots of indisputable beauty, and in context they are both provocative and disturbing. They're small, blink-and-you-miss-them moments: a glare from the sexroid Boomer in Leon's direction, or a pensive shot of Iris walking away from Leon. These parts don't add up to a whole as well as they should, but strangely they add psychological weight to what should be a fairly rote piece of cyberpunk pulp.

Closer inspection also reveals a strong social statement. The Phantom Woman seems utterly upset by the cold nature of Japanese bureaucracy and the worthlessness of lives in the pursuit of the dollar. The Ripper points out the inherent parts of humanity lost in the pursuit of knowledge and progress. It should come as no surprise that both of first two stories were penned by Noboru "Shou" Aikawa. (I was especially amused by one shot where Leon tries to ignore the activities of the Nazi-sympathizing Japanese Nationalist Party, given Aikawa's work in Angel Cop around the same time.)

The most conspicuous thing that gives AD Police Files its unique feel is its vocal tracks by Philippine pop singer Lou Bonnevie. Despite how prominently she's featured in the show, none of the songs are original -- or were even new when the OAV came out. (Most of the tracks come from her 1984 self-titled debut album; "Love Me Tonight" is from 1988's "My World.") I'm unaware of any major push to introduce her into the Japanese music scene at the time, so it's just as likely someone on the production was a fan of hers. In fact, footage from A.D. Police Files and Bubblegum Crisis were cut to her songs and included as music video bonuses on the original Japanese LDs (which are reproduced on AnimEigo's releases).

But the songs are in English, and it's unlikely that the editors paid much attention to the lyrics when they made these videos. This led to some bizarre juxtaposition between footage and music, such as a drippy ballad ("I Need Your Love") played to shots of Iris staring at a woman, followed by a shot of a prostitute getting carved out like a turkey. But the strangest combination had to be the haunting "Love Me Tonight," a desperate and lonely anthem, played out to The Phantom Woman. It puts the story in a whole new light, from the Boomer's point of view, and it's at once horrifying and compelling: one of my most indelible anime memories involves Bonnevie's husky voice crooning "Where is the light/I need to see you/In your arms/I need to touch you" while seeing a sexroid boomer in lingerie getting shot repeatedly.

There are actually two English versions, and both have significant problems. AnimEigo's dub is produced by the heinous Southwynde Studios, and it sticks slavishly to the raw translation while matching it to some truly terrible performances by Regan Forman as Jeena as well as the supporting cast, while the mediocre Brad Moranz reprises his milquetoast performance as Leon. The end product is watchable but nowhere approaching "good." (To its credit, the dub includes early work by the then-promising Michael Sinterniklaas, Juliet Cesario and Scott Simpson.) Meanwhile Manga UK put out an entirely separate dub which casts Adam Henderson as a gruff-but-approachable Leon, while Shelly Thompson strikes a near-perfect blend of heart and hard-living in her still-thoroughly-British Geena. However, this being a middle-of-the-road Manga UK dub the script is liberally rewritten, in the process doing away with many small details, even going so far as to arbitrarily replace Leon's last name! (It's now "Higachi!") While definitely not perfect and not for purists, the UK dub is far more watchable. Even if they call the robots "Voomers."

The animation is nothing too special for its era, and, there isn't much of a uniform look across the three episodes, each of which were made by mostly different crew. It's fun to pick out familiar artists' styles; Hiroyuki Kitazume's work in The Ripper stands out in particular. The subtle touches of the environment in all three bear the marks of AIC regular Ley Yumeno (who also served as mecha designer). But most of the staff are more obscure.

AD Police Files is a flawed work, but has enough memorable moments and beautiful, macabre touches to redeem it in some way. It has some intelligent things to say while it tries to shock us with its depravity, and has the quirky charm of Artmic's showcase OAVs of the 80s, the ones where the artists were deeply committed to something that their budget wouldn't quite allow for. This visual unevenness is something I've grown to love, because it really shows the dedication that an anime staff puts into their work, organic in a way that today's CG anime can never be. Just like an eclectic B-movie, it's got some fascinating layers hidden just underneath the surface. In my book, that makes it a gem.


Obscure-O-Meter™
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:
The US DVD is still in print, and easy to get cheap. The AnimEigo disc looks quite a bit better (and is bilingual), and seems to be perennially on sale (along with Bubblegum Crash). It also includes all of the Lou Bonnevie music videos, and features the obsessive subtitling work of AnimEigo at their peak. The Manga UK disc is now out of print but can be had for as little as 2 Pounds. It looks quite serviceable for a PAL transfer, but includes none of the music videos or the Japanese version.

Meanwhile Lou Bonnevie is still performing, though seldom outside the Philippines. Her official website has samples of her albums and her music videos. I'm not really into the P-pop scene, so I can't really say if she's still popular or not.


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