Pile of Shame Bite Me! Chameleon
by Justin Sevakis,
There are at least four genres of anime that, no matter what anybody does, always seem to completely fall on their face when released in the West: sports, realistic military, yakuza and yankee (juvenile delinquent) shows. These were discovered through a lot of trial and error in the early days of the American anime business. However, of all of those genres, the complete lack of appeal held by yankee anime was one of the first hard-learned lessons of Western publishers. AnimEigo consistently states that Shōnan Bakusōzoku was the worst-selling title in their entire catalog. And if you asked ADV Films what their biggest VHS-era bomb was, it was doubtlessly either Delinquent in Drag or Bite Me! - Chameleon. (Or The Abashiri Family. But I digress.)
The yankee, or juvenile delinquent, was pretty much the face of counterculture in the 80s and early 90s. They were loud, bleached and colored their hair, wore ill-fitting uniforms, got into frequent fights, and often organized into hordes of motorcycle gangs (bosozoku). I always suspected that the more well behaved kids looked towards them with a combination of fear and admiration. When the Japanese media started frothing at the mouth over this new threat to the peaceful Japanese way of life, yankee manga series suddenly adorned shounen manga magazines, and these were often dramatized into anime or direct-to-video movies.
Which brings me to Chameleon. (ADV Films, sensing that the title was Engrish nonsense, added "Bite Me!" to give it a juvenile rebellious edge.) Based on the ridiculously long manga series by Atsushi Kase (which ran 47 volumes over ten years), the show is a down-and-dirty tale of high school miscreants, centered around a ridiculously short kid named Eisaku Yazawa. His diminutive size meant that he was frequently bullied in middle school, but now that he's in high school he has dreams of becoming a badass punk. While half-heartedly attempting to save a buddy from being bullied, he ends up picking a fight with the school tough guy Naoki Aizawa. Random, directionless hijinks proceed from there, but never in the way of developing an actual story or giving its characters any personality.
Chameleon is old, ugly and stupid -- the sort of show that feels like it belongs in a garage sale, covered in a layer of grime and cigarette ash. It heavily in gross-out humor: within the first 30 seconds, a kid is getting peed on by bullies; there's lots of used tampons and blood and pooping and fart noises. Some of the jokes might've been funny in isolation I guess. Nonetheless, I had real trouble making it through this one. The characters are, without exception, ugly and vile human beings, and by only about ten minutes in I had checked out entirely. These violent, stupid goons are not worth my time, and in a world with YouTube fail compilations, seeing one of them prat-fall into a bucket of school lunch trash is slightly less interesting than examining the ceiling texture of my living room.
The show's banal stupidity might've been easier to stomach if the animation was good, but it's pretty terrible even for an early 90s low-budget OAV. Characters' eyes are often looking in opposing directions, constantly stray FAR off model, and everything is generally ugly to begin with. Director Mitsuo Hashimoto's work mostly consists of later Dragon Ball Z and Dr. Slump movies and, more recently, Bakugan Battle Brawlers. Nobody else on this OAV's staff could even be considered a B-list talent.
There's actually six parts to this OAV, which were released in Japan over four years. The show was such a failure for ADV, however, that after releasing a single episode on subtitled VHS, they abandoned the series and didn't bother dubbing it, only bothering to re-release it in new packaging after they switched their whole product line to cardboard boxes. It was such an early release that ADV had not yet curbed the habit of trying to amp up their subtitle scripts by adding jokes; the translation is on the shoddy side. Not that anyone noticed.
It's very strange, but it seems like Western anime fandom has not only forgotten, but actively purged this show from its collective memories. The VHS release is not in the database of either Amazon.com or eBay's Half.com. The only review of the show I could find was a vintage 1999 video of a San Francisco anime club, all sitting around in someone's living room trying to reconcile what they'd just watched with their own sense that life is still worth living. Nearly all of them were ready to take the tape out back and burn it. I can relate.
Japanese Name: カメレオン (KAMEREON)
Media Type: OAV
Length: 6 x 50 min.
Genres: Action, Comedy, Yankee
Availability (Japan): I could only find evidence of a VHS release.
Availability (English): ADV's old subtitled VHS tape of episode 1 is all there is. It sold so few copies that it's not even in Amazon's database, and only shows up on eBay once in a blue moon. I guess it's pretty rare. It's since had its subtitles ripped and re-matched with a cleaner Japanese VHS video cap.
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