Pile of Shame

by Justin Sevakis,


Hisashi Eguchi is probably a guy that's better known among Japanese creatives than among American otaku. As an illustrator and manga artist, he's designed characters for such anime as Roujin Z and Spriggan, heavily influenced the look of Satoshi Kon's characters (Perfect Blue's final look was based on his designs), and worked with Katsuhiro Otomo on numerous occasions. And yet, none of his manga have ever been published in English.

His 1984 manga "Eiji" is probably one of his more approachable works, being only a single volume of manga (and another single-volume sequel that came years later). I don't know what prompted Movic to produce a short movie of this manga, but this short feature film (that apparently did run in theaters) is yet another high school boxing anime that had some amount of potential. But in the end, the film itself is rather forgettable.

Eiji is a troublemaker. The high school junior is a gigantic slacker, and prefers to goof around with girls rather than apply himself in any serious way. He's also part of a rock band. The problem is, Eiji has a temper, and a fist. He's very bad with his temper, very good with his fist, and that gets him into trouble. After an incident at a concert one night, he's put on academic probation. His band has had it with him too.

His late father was once a champion boxer, and now his older brother is about to get his shot at a title. But the kid has zero interest in boxing until one day the captain of the school boxing team comes by to see his brother. He's so rude upon visiting that Eiji takes it upon himself to start a fight, and the two go at it. Hard. By the end of the match, pretty much everyone's convinced that he'd be quite a fighter if he only applied himself.

Eiji actually has very good reason for not wanting that life -- the strict diets, the poor pay, and having to retire at 30 for starters. Despite that very mature analysis, the coach and Eiji's mother are pretty darn sure he'd be a great boxer. But to convince Eiji to give it his best, he's going to have to see his brother in the ring.

Directed by Mizuho Nishikubo (Video Girl Ai, Combustible Campus Guardress), the look of the film looks very much inspired by the 1987 OAV To-y. The concert scenes and seductive use of lighting are dead ringers for the style of the classic OAV. The characters themselves are also much better looking -- Eguchi's Eiji is much more of a scrawny spaz than his anime counterpart. Eguchi himself is credited with the anime's "costume design," but it's clear that other factors and influences were at play with the anime version.

All of which is to say that the film is positively dripping with late-80s style pop art... for those few concert scenes, anyway. The rest of the film is awash in unglamorous middle-class Tokyo, most prominently Eiji's high school and the sweaty boxing gym. And far from being stylish, Eiji himself turns into a complete, snotty goofball. He haphazardly tries to woo his female friend into becoming his girlfriend, has a rival in the captain of the boxing club, and basically gets into trouble constantly. The majority of the show lives in that world.

And therein lies the problem: the world that this anime is set in is rather drab, and Eiji just isn't all that interesting as a character. Perhaps I've just seen the whole disaffected-youth-with-a-sense-of-humor thing one too many times, but the end result is a mildly compelling short movie, but one that feels much longer than its running time. There's so much dead weight here -- Eiji's school life and his relationship with the girl he hangs out with, Eiji's strained (and barely developed) relationship with his band... but none of it adds up to very much. The boxing matches might've been an exciting saving grace, but shockingly, there's barely any actual boxing in this OAV. Most of the running time is spent mired in comedically-tinged teen melodrama.

There is a sense of style to Eiji, but it's applied so unevenly that it's hard to admire the work as a whole. There are some spectacular scenes here and there -- fight choreography, what little there is, is well handled, and some of the backgrounds are quite nice -- but there's nothing stylistically holding the piece together. There are some nice things about it, but this film doesn't really work.

Japanese Name: エイジ (EIJI)

Media Type: Movie

Length: 45 min.

Vintage: 1990

Genres: Shounen, comedy, sports

Availability (Japan): Only VHS and Laserdiscs were released.

Availability (English): Fansubs.

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