Pile of Shame
Emblem Take 2

by Justin Sevakis,

Emblem Take 2

Yakuza aren't a pleasant topic. Japan's fully-entrenched organized crime families and organizations, and their connections with everything from banking to entertainment to politics show us Japan at its most corrupt and embarrassing. Unless you go looking for trouble in Tokyo, it's unlikely that a tourist would get caught up in the underworld directly, but it's always there, lurking underneath the surface.

Yakuza stories have never been a mainstay of Western otaku culture, or of anime in general. Yakuza stories tend to predominantly run as seinen manga, which seldom get anime adaptations. Realistic stories of Japanese machismo always seem to be regarded in the West with a jaundiced eye. My own experience with yakuza stories tend to involve cartoonishly gory Takashi Miike live action films like Gozu and Dead or Alive, and while I've enjoyed them, I can't exactly call them pleasant viewing experiences.

So needless to say, I'm hardpressed to think of a time where I have seen yakuza presented humorously and humanely. Emblem Take 2 doesn't really change my opinion of either yakuza or the special kind of insanity it takes to live such a lifestyle, but it did make me laugh, which is something.

Joji Akutsu is not what you would call a successful yakuza. He's in his 30s and has clearly already peaked, married to a bulbous beast of a woman, perpetually broke, and bossed around by the juniors that are supposed to be working under him. One of those juniors sends him out on a hit job, which is really a set-up: his yakuza family consider him a liability, and are putting him out to pasture. Joji is ambushed, and accidentally shoots himself trying to escape. It's a loser's end, and a fitting one for a guy like him.

Or at least, it would be. After dying his pathetic death, Joji finds himself mysteriously back in Shinjuku 10 years earlier, in the middle of a street fight with a bunch of high school hoodlums that he remembers as a turning point in his miserable little life. Instinctively, he does what he always wished he would've done: intimidates them and fends them off. That's when he realizes that this isn't a dream -- that he actually has control over his own destiny and the power to change it. And knowing what he did wrong the first time (everything), sets about trying to make things better for himself.

The operative word, of course, is "trying." He might be a little smarter and wiser, but a) he's still a low-level grunt who's never really learned the skills it takes to be successful, and b) he's still pretty much the same spineless idiot he was before. Soon he finds himself back in familiar patterns. His offensively unattractive future-wife is clinging onto him like wet toilet paper. He's still working under the guy that will conspire to eventually kill him in 10 years. But he also has another chance.

Things start to go badly in new directions. A shady underground bank deal lands his immediate big brother in hot water, and to help him out, Joji temporarily pawns his Yakuza family emblem so that he can bet on a horse race he knows the outcome of. His prediction works, and he wins the money, but another yakuza family finds the emblem and, in a matter that the bosses find utterly embarrassing, holds it ransom.

This two part OAV is the only animated piece of the long, long manga Kazumasa Kikuchi and Jun Watanabe, which started in 1990 and was published in Young Magazine for 14 years (running an impressive 62 volumes). Coming from complete wildcard director Tetsuo Imagawa (Psychic Wars, Kinnikuman, and Candy Candy), the show is definitely more fun that I was expecting to be. While the second episode starts to get bogged down in Yakuza politics and loan collections, it's still a decently-paced adventure that's more fun than it really should be.

Emblem Take 2 feels like one of those two-part OAVs that ADV Films would've put out on VHS in the late 90s. It has that classic look of a decently budgeted 90s OAVs, and is fairly unremarkable while at the same time being enjoyable entertainment. It's decently animated, but completely unmemorable and unremarkable, save for its unusual subject matter and better-than-usual sense of humor. I enjoyed myself. But I certainly won't be wanting to hang out with yakuza any time soon.

Japanese Name: 代紋TAKE2 (Enburemu TAKE2)

Media Type: OAV Series

Length: 2 x 52 min.

Vintage: 1993/1995

Genres: Seinen, Yakuza, Action, Comedy, Crime

Availability (Japan): Both parts were released on a subtitled-only DVD years ago. It's hard to tell if it's still in print or if stores are just sitting on old stock, but used copies are going for bargain prices.

Availability (English): I'd be shocked if we ever got more than a fansub.

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