Pile of Shame - Blue SonnetJun 25th 2013
Blue Sonnet must be the goriest shoujo anime ever made. People are vivisected, heads explode, blood gushes everywhere. Based on a manga by Masahiro Shibata, which ran in Hana to Yume Magazine, the series was part of what I like to refer to as the 80s ESPer boom -- time when ESP seemed to play some role, however minor, in a good 1/3 of the series in circulation. I can only imagine the novelty was a boon to animators, as it meant easy-to-draw visual clichés like levitating characters, chi throwing and dialogue without mouth movement could be justified across the board.
The five-part OAV series from 1990-92 was an early anime VHS release Stateside -- one of the giant pile of OAVs from Central Park Media that had terrible box art and little to differentiate it from the stacks of other anime releases. I hadn't seen Blue Sonnet in over a decade, but I remember it from my formative otaku years as being uniquely entertaining, even marginally compelling, despite its genre trappings. But aside from a recommendation in an early Right Stuf catalog, few people talked about it, and it seems to have had almost no impact on US fans, who would foam at the mouth over almost anything back in the day.
The series starts with Ran Komatsuzaki, a smart but otherwise fairly ordinary high school girl. Despite being well past pubescent age, she's just now getting her first period -- and with it come a few startling abilities she can't control. She lives with her reporter uncle, and his son Wataru. It's a warm, loving home, and her uncle takes her new psychic abilities in stride.
But things start to change quickly when Sonnet, an insanely smart, Japanese-fluent Western girl with platinum blond hair, transfers into her class. There's nothing overtly odd about her, except that she gives Ran the creeps -- it's as if Sonnet is constantly sizing her up. As it turns out, Sonnet is a psyonic cyborg, sent to both investigate Ran's powers and to provoke them into awakening. Her master is Dr. Merikus, a short, shriveled old man in a lab coat who knows a lot about Ran's past, and believes that deep inside her lies the power of a legendary ultimate ESPer known as "Red Fang."
Over the course of the five episodes, Dr. Merikus and the organization that funds his research, the Talon Group, throw everything from race cars to armies at Ran, trying to claim her for their own twisted lab experiments. In the process of running, she enlists the aid of a man named Shuichi "Bird" Torigai, who also has strong ESP powers and a healthy disdain for Talon. Sonnet, for her part, acts as a loyal servant to Talon, but is slowly awakening to the fact that she's on the wrong side of the war... and to the fact that she's desperately lonely.
There is no subtlety to be had in Blue Sonnet. The good guys are the good guys, the bad guys are pure, dripping, vile evil incarnate, and Ran's plight as the girl with unspeakable powers within her has been echoed throughout fantasy and sci-fi for decades. Despite all that, there's a certain charm to the show, a pulpy excitement that takes itself seriously, but not TOO seriously. It plays out like a particularly good B-movie: never boring, occasionally dopey, and a lot more involving than it should be.
Despite all the blood and robots, reminders that Blue Sonnet has its roots in shoujo manga pop up every now and again. Wataru it a little too excited to be hanging out with the cool older guy Bird, and the female characters seem completely unsexualized by today's standards. Perhaps it's this, plus the distinctly 70s-looking character designs, that kept Western fans at bay. Helmed by the late Takeyuki Kanda (Mobile Suit Gundam, The 08th MS Team; Armor Hunter Mellowlink), the show is nothing to write home about visually, but succeeds mostly on the merits of its pacing and style.
Blue Sonnet has never had a DVD release in any country, to my knowledge. Central Park Media released it on two subtitled-only VHS tapes and laserdiscs early on (one volume has a bizarre but unintrusive video problem where the brightest whites are turned black), but although a DVD was on the schedule at one point, the licensor declined to renew our agreement, and that was that.
In the UK, Manga Video put out the series on two dubbed VHS tapes, which must've sold extraordinarily poorly, as it took Mike Toole and I the better part of five years to track down copies of both volumes. The release was from the days following the release of Ghost in the Shell, when they had over-invested and were short on cash, and so UK dubbing operations had been moved from London to Cardiff, Wales. Needless to say, the people involved were nowhere near the quality of Manga UK's already-spotty London group, and despite the involvement of regular voice actors Toni Barry and Peter Marinker, the dub is pretty awful, and features some of the worst faux American accents I've ever heard. Worst of all, the subtle ending adds dialogue that takes the scene from subtle and sweet to over-the-top, mawkish and stupid.
Where there's nothing all that unique about Blue Sonnet, it remains a mildly compelling, reasonably entertaining effort. Though its look and animation are dated, Ran and Sonnet's plights both remain compelling, and that's really all that matters in the end. I hold out hope that, someday, a DVD release might be forthcoming.
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