Pile of Shame
Ai City

by Justin Sevakis,

Ai City

In the opening scenes of Ai City, we are dropped into the middle of a car chase in what is possibly New York City. In the back seat is a former cop, who was fired and is now a private investigator. He doesn't know why he's there, and neither do we. In the front seat are Kei (K), a young man with a bad haircut and a streak of action hero in him, and Ai (I), his "daughter". They're being chased by a red-headed woman named K2, along with a small army from a clandestine organization known as Fraud.

Both Kei and K2 are ESPers, and when they power up, their foreheads show a number that meters their power. Kei, it is revealed, was an aborted experiment, a headmeter that couldn't achieve very much power. K2 is the production model (and a woman). What she didn't count on was that Kei, after being thrown away, would find and adopt a young clone of his late girlfriend, and that his powers would increase a million times over.

So Kei beats K2 so hard it rips a hole in reality, and when she finally gets spat back out into the world she's lost her memory, and is suddenly a really cool lady who likes to wear leotards and bunny ears. She falls for the Old Man in the back seat. But there's still a war on: Fraud wants Ai (and the untold powers that lie within her), and it's up to this small team of weirdos to keep her from harm.

A very loose adaptation of a 2-volume sci-fi manga series by Shuuhou "SYUFO" Itahashi, and it is absolutely the work of a lunatic. The story barely holds together as it shoots in every direction, as if it just drank a 2-liter of Mountain Dew Code Red. You can tell it's Code Red because everything glows as if it were neon colors under a blacklight. And then big gushy monsters explode. It's kind of fun.

Here in the US, Ai City was noteworthy only in that it was one of a handful of "modern" anime that The Right Stuf released back in the VHS era. It graced a cover of their annual catalog (which was a much bigger deal back in those days), and made its way to retailer shelves across the country. But Right Stuf seemed to know that this one wasn't going to set the world on fire. They never made an English dub, and the film never made the leap to DVD stateside. Which is just as well. If it had, I'm sure it would still be lining the $5 DVD bins at every anime convention to this day.

An early work by director Kōichi Mashimo (Noir, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, .hack series), the film has a very similar feel and mood to his next work, Dirty Pair: Project Eden, including a healthy dose of 80s power rock and visuals that combine night time 40s film Noir aesthetic with bright bursts of color and grotesque gargoyle-esque monsters. However without the restraint of working with existing characters, the film wobbles a little bit in its telling.

There's a huge amount of visual inventiveness on display here, both in terms of abstract art and of animation in general. While lines sometimes get squiggly and characters don't always stay on model, there is seldom a moment when things stand still. And in this motion, it's always aiming after a unique visual style, informed by MTV and the neon look of the 80s.

One might even say that all of this inventiveness and ambition are a little too much. They distract from the jarringly incomplete screenplay and the questions that never get answered, but after a while they fail to dazzle, and end up becoming a little dull to watch. It's like watching fireworks for an hour and a half: eventually you get a little tired of staring at bright colors in the night sky.

And Mashimo throws every trick at the book at us visually, trying to keep our attention. For a few scenes, he attempts gut-splattering gore. A few scenes later he's rendering a bizarre looking monster. In another, he's playing with lighting and neon colors. It's fun at first, and then it just becomes exhausting. But trying to divert your attention to the plot will get you nowhere. The first half of the film is an easy-to-follow story of escapees from an evil society, but after a few people change sides and additional bad guys are introduced, things get pretty muddled.

I don't know what the ending means, and I'm not going to pretend I do. Whatever it is that actually happens, it's a completely dissatisfying attempt at an ending even by anime standards. But by that time the story is already so tangled that it's hard to care. Either you enjoyed the ride, or you're so confused by what you just witnessed that you couldn't even process an ending if you tried.

How much you will get out of Ai City depends entirely on why you watch anime in the first place. If you watch it for the stories and the characters, you can probably safely skip this one. But for those whose tastes are rooted in the hand-drawn, organic feel of classic anime, and don't mind letting a few plot points skip as long as the visuals are eye catching, it's definitely worth checking out.

Japanese Name: アイ・シティ (AI SHITTEI)

Media Type: Movie

Length: 86 min.

Vintage: 1986

Genres: Sci-fi, ESPer, action, fantasy

Availability (Japan): A very nice looking DVD was released, but is now out of print and fetching a pretty high price on the used market.

Availability (English): Right Stuf's subtitled VHS release is all we've got.

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