Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 19th 2014
Sub.DVD - Complete OVA Series
In the 21st century Earth turned its eyes towards the Moon as a prime source of resources to balance out depletion of the Earth's own natural stores. Hence began a wave of colonization by enterprising souls which eventually led to the creation of Monopolis on the dark side of the Moon. Decades later, as the third generation of colonists grows to adulthood, unrest rises as the youngest generation becomes increasingly dissatisfied with remaining beholden to an Earth that they do not know. Young Shun and his friend/potential love interest Rachel eventually finds themselves caught between the growing movement towards rebellion, led by a charismatic miner named Dog McCoy, and the forces of Earth which seek to maintain order, led by Alex Leiger. Alex's visiting fiancée Melinda getting kidnapped by the rebels starts to force the issue toward conflict, one which will inevitably get bloody. Standing in the background is Dallos, a massive metal face in a crater on the Moon whose origin and intent no one can remember but which is practically worshiped as a god by the colonists. And Heaven forfend if the strife between Earth forces and rebels should cause it to awaken!
Dallos is one of those '80s OVA titles that had long since faded into obscurity and probably would have remained there if not for one very important fact: it is one of the major landmark titles not just in anime but in animation in general. The December 1983 release of its second episode (which was the first one released) marks it as the first direct-to-video animation project released anywhere in the world, preceding Disney's Return of Jafar (the first such American production) by a full decade. Its production and the attitudes that went into making it set many influential precedents, ones that would shape the course of OVA production over the next two decades; for instance, the specific intents that it would be budgeted between TV series and movie levels and that it would not be beholden to promoting toy sales (which thus allowed for greater creative freedom) are doubtless major reasons why OVAs in Japan came to be regarded as occupying a quality middle ground between TV series and movies, rather than the more American attitude of them being “too bad/cheap to be worth theatrical releases.” Likely because of its importance, Discotek opted to dig it out of the bin of obscurity and release it in subtitled-only form on DVD under their Eastern Star label, which marks not only its first appearance on American DVD but also its first uncut release ever in the United States. (Dubbed and subbed versions of a trimmed movie format were released on VHS in the early '90s.)
Of course, the fact that legendary director Mamoru Oshii co-directed the project at the same time that he was working on Urusei Yatsura probably has a bit to do with that, too. Though commonly given singular directing credit for the series, the “making of” documentary included as the disk's main Extra clarifies that Oshii actually shared the directing honors with Hisayuki Toriumi, whom Oshii regarded as a mentor. Toriumi, who is probably most famous for directing the standard-setting Gatchaman, actually directed episode 1 and the drama parts of episode 3, while Oshii directed episode 2 and the action elements of episode 3. (Who directed what in episode 4 is never made clear.) By all accounts the two made little effort to coordinate between themselves even though they were on quite amicable terms, which results in a certain disconnect being evident between the action and dramatic components of the series if one knows to look for it and may contribute to some choppy scene cuts in places. It did, however, also allow both men to focus on their specialties, which results in some quality content on both fronts individually, though on the whole the series does not integrate the two aspects terribly well.
On the dramatic front, the storytelling sets up a remarkably thoughtful approach to a colony growing into a rebellious state as time passes. While the earlier generations are willing to tolerate being answerable to Earth, as they feel that they have a great debt to repay to the Earth for it funding the establishment of the lunar colonies, the younger generation who knows nothing of Earth has no such sense of loyalty and so chafes under what they see as Earth's oppression and Earth prospering on the backs of their labor. Dog McCoy is no half-cocked revolutionary leader; he is one molded by past failure into a more cautious, thoughtful rebel, one who acts with deliberation and consideration of what impact his actions will have. In fact, whether intentional or not, the whole scenario gives off a vibe not too dissimilar from the American colonies in the days leading up to the Revolutionary War. Over the course of four episodes we see characters either grow into revolutionaries or desperately cling to their ideals, like Shun's father, who stubbornly insists that “someone has to get the work done” even in the face of widespread strikes, or Alex's fiancée Melinda, who firmly (and likely naïvely) believes that people on Earth will not turn a blind eye to the grievances of those in Monopolis even as most other characters regard her skeptically. There's also some bureaucratic scheming going on, too, as Alex's cocky attitude has not made friends amongst his allies. The writing still is not very sophisticated, and does suffer greatly from occasionally-awkward scene transitions and a sense that the storytelling is still a bit truncated, but it definitely gives the signs of the better and sharper things to come over the next couple of decades.
The action scenes belong to Oshii and give some early evidence of what he would later be truly capable of in the sci fi realm. The American movie First Blood, in which Sylvester Stallone's Rambo manufactures makeshift weapons from the resources he has on hand, is cited as an influence on the way the colonists adapt their construction vehicles and mecha into weapons (although surely the TV series The A-Team would have been a better match here from that same time period?), but Oshii also shows a precursor to his future cyberpunk efforts in his use of cyborg dogs and skiing paratroopers. His attention to detail is also evident in meticulous renditions of clips and guns being loaded, shell casings being ejected, and battle tactics; in fact, he puts so much emphasis on the latter that the series lacks a truly glorified heroic action figure, an effort that may have been intentional since the series was trying to catch the coattails of Gundam without actually being Gundam. While the effects of the Moon's lighter gravity are largely allowed to slide, the impact of it not having an atmosphere is not. And do not doubt for a minute that the series has its fair share of explosions and fatalities, including some fairly bloody ones.
The visual standards for the series are largely typical for the time period in which the series was made, especially in character designs. Healthy adult men typically have buff, broad-shouldered, triangular builds, while the stark differences in design between Melinda, Rachel, and female rebel Erna help give the impression that Melinda is supposed to be the stunning beauty while Rachel is the “Girl Next Door” and Erna, who looks like a period pop rocker, is the tough one. Mecha designs are convincingly reminiscent of construction vehicles and airship aesthetics are similar enough to those seen in later anime series that this one may have been a trend-setter in that regard. Moonscapes and the layered design of the residential Section 3 are both convincing. The coloring approach stands out a bit because Oshii made the decision to use black in places where one would normally expect shading effects, which gives the artistry somewhat of a heavy look. Animation quality varies; airships have some of the awkward-looking movement patterns seen in other early OVAs like Black Magic M-66, but crowd scenes and the detailed movements of the cyborg dogs are handled remarkably well and still shot use is better-disguised than in most other anime titles.
The soundtrack is more erratic and less satisfactory. Its grandiose-sounding opening theme fits well, as does some mournful bass pieces and dramatic numbers used in places, but big chunks of it are too mired in weak, synthesizer-laced symphonic numbers to have much of an impact. Amongst Japanese vocal performances, Shun's seiyuu only had a couple of other anime credits (understandable, as his performance here does not impress), but most of the rest of the important characters were voiced by seiyuu who either were or would become seasoned veterans, including several carry-overs from the Gundam franchise (Shuuichi Ikeda, the voice of Alex here, was also the voice of Char); perhaps most prominent among them is Yoshiko Sakakibara, the voice of Melinda, who co-starred in Space Adventure Cobra and would go on to have major roles in the Bubblegum Crisis, Patlabor, Hellsing, and You're Under Arrest franchises, amongst many others. This is not her most impressive work, although admittedly she does not have much to work with, either, as her character does not actually do much.
Eastern Star's release of the title is subtitled-only, but since an English dub was never made for the uncut version, nothing is really missing here. The picture quality suggests that it has never had more than minor restoration in that regard, and it remains in the original 4:3 aspect ratio, but the sound quality has been upgraded to Digital 2.0 at some point, which gives it a rich, fully satisfying modern sound. Extras include a short pilot film whose details vary significantly from the final project and a roughly 35 minute reflective piece apparently made for a 20th anniversary rerelease which interviews Oshii and several other key figures involved in the project. It provides a lot of interesting insight on the pitching and producing the project, drops a lot of big names from the time period, and clearly shows that Oshii's low opinion of current anime can be traced back at least to the early 2000s.
Ultimately Dallos is probably best regarded as the complete first arc of a never-intended-to-be-completed greater story. The end of the fourth episode clearly shows that the main thrust of the story is to determine the paths that main character Shun and those around him will follow, and the ominous last words indicate that what is shown here is merely the first stage of what will become a much more protracted power struggle. The imagery of its final regular scenes, which show Shun standing in the aptly-named Sea of Nostalgia (the imagery on the front cover of the DVD) is the series' most powerful when taken in context, the kind of imagery which clearly sets the project as being above and beyond kids' fare even if the graphic content didn't. It is a worthy scene for wrapping a series that should be of great interest to any anime history buff or fan of older sci fi anime.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : C
+ Strong historical value, involving “make of” piece in the Extras, shows some standard-setting innovations.
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