by Justin Sevakis,
When I said Buried Treasure would be spotty in March, I wasn't expecting it to come to a full stop. Suffice it to say that if I could tell you what I was so busy doing during this time all would be forgiven... but I can't, so you're just going to have to assume I was up to something interesting. Because I was. Anyway, I'm back now.
Assemble Insert's obscure name comes from the two methods of video editing, back in the bad old days when that involved constant copying from one video tape to another. That, however, has virtually nothing to do with this nutty little two-part OAV, a tale of mecha, idol singers and a beleaguered, underfunded police task force. It's based on a manga by Masami Yuuki, the man responsible for the manga incarnation of Patlabor, and appears to be cobbled together out of pieces of what were then pop culture clichés. You know, the super-powered high school girls, giant mecha, idol singers... and a generically evil villain with ridiculous hair.
No doubt the ground Assemble Insert calls home has been trod on many times before. Assemble Insert's originality comes from its style rather than any attempts at moving beyond its little subgenre of 80s anime comedy. It feels like Project A-ko by way of Patlabor, a mix of cute destruction-causing anime hyperactivity and Simpsons-esque "everything sucks" societal humor. And it doesn't try to do much beyond make you smile.
The city of Tokyo is under attack by the dastardly crime group known as the Demon Seed, which seems to consist of an archetypical henchman and his band of mecha pilots. They regularly bust into art exhibitions or museums, smash the place up, and get to stealin'. The bureau of the Tokyo Police that's been set up to deal with the Demon Seed, the so-called Demon Seed Task Force, is filled with misfits stuck out in a small office space with almost no funding. How could a bunch of government workers in an office with no resources possibly take down the Demon Seed?
The answer, of course, is to find and manage an idol singer. The idea (miraculously approved after the section chief submitted it while intoxicated) leads the gang to hold auditions... and eventually they find a high school girl named Maron. On the outside she's totally moë: she's timid, cute and slight. She sings decent enough, and has an okay body... but she also is inexplicably superhuman. Soon, they've got her recording pop songs, making appearances at shopping malls, and doing all the things idols normally do. Demon Seed will never see her coming.
There's a sense of glee in Yuuki's comedy works, a sort of gentle slapstick mixed with mundane everyday frustration. Nobody in the show is particularly smart or talented: Maron is just a normal, quiet girl who happens to be really really strong -- few seem to take notice of her unusual abilities. The anti-Demon Seed task force is a bunch of misfit sad-sacks, and the evil Demon Seed itself seems to be comprised of nothing but run-of-the-mill thugs who just so happened to have been endowed with mecha suits at some point.
So it should come as no surprise that, after Maron's first battle with them, the Demon Seed take months to recover. Indeed, they'd never prepared for a situation where every single one of their mecha had been taken down. The police aren't happy about this either: with public opinion in the toilet and no Demon Seed to combat, they're essentially a waste of taxpayer money, and continue to push Maron as an idol singer in order to pay the bills. I should note that Demon Seed isn't quite so upset at being taken down by a slight teenaged girl as they are just kind of depressed by losing so badly.
Nerdy self-references abound, from the staff of Patlabor (some of which are reincarnated here into members of the anti-Demon Seed task force) to Yuuki's other comedy series Ultimate Superman R. (R is a super-powered cyborg high school kid who happens to be a mouth-breathing, tall gangly nerd. Look for his own OAV in a future Buried Treasure installment.) Yuuki draws himself as the task force's requisite otaku -- porn obsessed, lisping and barely capable of coherent thought. Other laughs are to be had at the show's stabs at product placement, involving a very silly live action sequence.
The English dub, by Joe DiGiorgi at Headline Sound, is not great. While Jessica Calvello is cute and lovable as Maron, the rest of the cast is uniformly flat, and every attempt at comic timing sounds wooden and slow, effectively robbing the show of its manic energy. For the full effect, I highly recommend the Japanese version, which includes the always lovable Hiroko Kasahara as Maron and the normally intimidating Norio Wakamoto as the completely beaten-down section chief Hattori.
Sometimes I think Assemble Insert should have been released as a bonus with Patlabor. It's got all of the classic series' energy, its snide sense of broken-down silliness, and its sense of happy cynicism. The two go together like peas in a pod, and since Assemble Insert seems somewhat obscure by comparison, maybe it could have benefited from being around a larger work. But then I remember nobody bought Patlabor, and that even though it could hardly have been considered a hit, Assemble Insert probably did better. But just a little.
Assemble Insert is a big wad of fun and love, an enjoyable little relic that's both approachable and friendly. It's something to watch on a crummy, rainy day; a little jolt of energy. Sort of like an energy drink. And once you're in the mood for an energy drink, you just gotta have one.
|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:
Assemble Insert was issued as a DVD twice, once in a mediocre version and once in a much better remastered edition with prettier packaging. Both are out of print now, but many stores still have it in stock for less than $10.
Screenshots ©1990 Masami Yuuki / Tohokushinsha Film Corporation.
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