Pile of Shame
by Justin Sevakis,
It's hard to know what to make of the OAV known as California Crisis. As an American, and one who currently lives in L.A. at that, the show feels like an alien race simply absorbed as much 80s American pop culture as they could, and tried to make a Hollywood blockbuster of their own. It makes very little sense, gets big things like car design and geography right while getting almost everything else laughably wrong. It also looks like absolutely nothing else ever made, before or since.
Noera is an alcoholic ne'er-do-well living in San Diego. He's hanging out at his old high school buddy's café getting drunk when a strange sound can be heard from far away. The next morning, his hung-over drive to L.A. (for a "job") is interrupted by a cute girl on a motorcycle, who snags a metal box from some trucks, who angrily run both of them off the road. The girl ends up in Noera's convertible (which somehow fell several hundred feet and landed without a scratch), and the two end up at a diner.
Inside the box is a large black ball, about the size of a bowling ball. When they put their hands on it, it shows them a scene of Death Valley. The girl, whose name is Marcia, wants to go there, and wants Noera to take her. Why? "The American Dream!" she says, clearly not knowing what that means. And so after an awkward night in a cheap motel, they take off Northward, with both the Kremlin and the American Air Force hot on their tail.
I'll just come right out and say this: the writing in this show is bad. Like, stereotypical college freshman screenwriting class bad. Beyond the metric ton of expository dialogue that leads nowhere, the things that the two leads do make absolutely no sense. In one scene taking place in L.A., the two are literally running away from the bad guys, and narrowly avoid them by ducking into a night club. They IMMEDIATELY stop and have a drink, leading Noera to run into another one of his old buddies, who is actually the guy from the Air Force that's been tailing him. But neither of them have any idea of that, and the coincidence leads to nothing. The entire scene exists solely so the animators could draw a really freaking awesome Sheila E. concert.
Yes, the flowing hair! And the palm trees! And the pop divas! I only moved to L.A. a few years ago, but I do remember from my 80s upbringing how the city seemed so glamorous and alluring, the way it seemed to spill over with attractive people, palm trees and beaches. The reality of the matter was something else entirely, but for the early MTV generation who only ever saw the area on television, SoCal was synonymous with the sexy, slightly dangerous youthful party scene of a music video. It's no wonder that it felt that way to Japan too.
If California Crisis gets anything right about Southern California, it's the car culture. From Noera's convertible (I'm not knowledgable enough about cars to know what this is, exactly, but it's clearly a much fetishized vehicle) to the boxy blue Dodge Ram vans that the bad guys drive, every inch of metal is rendered in exquisite, meticulously researched detail. Sunbeams and reflections swirl across their shiny finish seductively, as if the animators' mouths were watering while drawing them.
And yet, clearly those animators had never driven a car before, or possibly even ridden in one. It's trippy seeing all these gigantic 80s American cars bounce around weightlessly, running effortlessly over a sandy beach in one moment and popping a wheelie the next. In one weird moment, the ignition can be heard while the car is already in motion. When his convertible stops running, Noera doesn't get a tow truck or call his insurance company, he simply ditches the car by the side of the interstate. Legalities aside, anyone who owns a car like that would sooner lop off their own arms before abandoning their baby.
The look of the cars might be super-realistic, but the character designs and the shading are truly the most memorable things about the OAV. Opting for a posterized, outlined look, it feels much more like an American comic book than anime. That said, the only other place I can remember seeing artwork like this are on some vintage arcade game cabinets. In keeping with Japanese stereotypes of America, there are no minorities anywhere. With the exception of one used car dealer (who I THINK is supposed to be Mexican) everyone is blond-haired and blue eyed. Race issues aside, the look of the show is arresting, if a little visually messy. The low resolution of its VHS-only release doesn't help.
We never really find out what the orb is, what it does, or why everyone wants it so bad. The ending, actually, is so anticlimactic that it simply cries out for a snarky comment to be made out loud. Clearly almost no thought was put into the story, its nonsense characters, or why they need to drunk-drive all over Southern California dodging gunfire while occasionally listening to awesome 80s pop music.
To enjoy California Crisis, and it can be enjoyed, one must pay as little attention to the story as possible, and simply get lost in that feeling of driving down the interstate in a convertible, loud music blaring. Gotta admit, it feels pretty nice.
Japanese Name: カリフォルニア・クライシス 追撃の銃火 (California Crisis - Tsuigeki no Hibana)
Media Type: OAV
Length: 45 min.
Availability (Japan): VHS only.
Availability (English): No legal release in any country, just a fansub.
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