The Mike Toole Show All About 'I Give My All'
by Mike Toole,
As part of the work I do with the Discotek gang, I occasionally work on some cool shows that were once licensed, but never really released on video in the west—you know, the really good anime, like Fighting Foodons. As the years pass, the list of this orphaned, never-properly-released anime shrinks. These days, it's mostly made up of TV shows that aired on television in part or full, but never got a solid home video release, like Tokyo Pig and those Zoids cartoons. There is one never-released title that sits above the pack, however, because it got national TV and newspaper coverage—and it was that very coverage that led to its release getting wiped off the calendar. I'm talking about the would-be debut of Central Park Media, their canceled 1991 release of I Give My All.
I was kinda surprised when I started digging into my books, magazines, and internets to find the straight dope on I Give My All, because there wasn't a whole lot of it out there. For years, I'd heard apocrypha about how Central Park Media was going to release this racy OVA that wasn't even actually dirty by any real standard, but a wave of negative publicity caused the licensor to panic, cancel the contract, and buy up all the tapes CPM had printed, so they could be safely destroyed without accidentally reaching video stores. But when I started digging, accounts of the story were scant and scattered. I did find one good place to start, though—the LA Times, baby! Click through and read that whole article, I'll wait.
Any piece that begins with “Cartoons are not just for kids.” Is guaranteed to be a winner, especially if it's from 19-goddamn-91. This article does confirm a good deal of what I said above, with some fun bonus material, like animation icon Ralph Bakshi grumping about hentai anime in general, and some huffing and puffing about these weird, dirty cartoons from the Focus on the Family people. There was apparently also a Fox News TV segment about I Give My All produced, which, along with the LA Times article, was one of the things that caused Sony to panic and cancel the contract. Sadly, this segment isn't floating out there in the ether. See, this is why we need really expansive, searchable digital libraries, people—not to preserve all of mankind's knowledge, but so I can find a 25-year-old salacious TV news story going after anime.
What's kept me intrigued about I Give My All over the years is the fact that it's so different from what Central Park Media ultimately released and built their reputation on, fare like Dominion and Project A-Ko and M.D. Geist. The only thing for me to do was to watch the damn show, and try to put it all into context. It turns out that, in Japan, this was a pretty popular thing, with a 19-book manga serial that ran in the pages of Young Jump, a live-action adaptation starring Sukeban Deka player Natsumi Asano, a follow-up TV special, and this 45-minute OVA.
Let's start with CPM head John O'Donnell's remarks from the LA Times article, about how this title was for animation fans seeking something a bit more mature and sexy—because I Give My All opens with a loser ronin looking at dirty magazines in his filthy apartment. The two girls across the street get some dark amusement by watching his pathetic lifestyle unfold, but their buddy Yuno takes pity on him. “He's only like that because he's lonely,” she insists, and so goes over to his place and more or less offers herself to him on a silver platter. Well, that's one way to solve a problem.
The ronin, Rokuro Chikanaka (the word “chikan” is part of his name, which is probably a coincidence, right?), can't believe his luck, but he gladly starts hooking up with Yuno. After a few nights out, he starts to notice odd things about her—she's prone to theatrics, at one point threatening to huff car exhaust if he leaves her, and she seems to come from a rich and well-connected family. She takes him to visit that family, the Mamiya group, who live in a mansion that basically looks like Versailles. Dad and Grandpa are cordial, but a bit nonplussed that their well-to-do daughter is dating a ronin struggling through his gap year; mom baldly asks her kid if the new boyfriend is taking care of business in the sack. (In a grimly humorous aside, mom casually mentions that if her man can't make her happy in bed, she beats the shit outta him!) There's a bunch of dumb jokes, a couple of spicy but softcore bedroom scenes, and then grandma flies home in the family Concorde to break it all up.
In looking up I Give My All, some details I remember are confirmed, and some are blown up. I'd long heard that the OVA was just barely dirty, less racy than a number of stuff that came out contemporaneously, like Devil Hunter Yokho. That is definitely not true—I Give My All isn't hardcore smut, but in 1991 you probably would've had a hard time even getting it on pay cable TV. There is one thing I'd still like to see, however, and that's the special promotional pink panties that were supposed to come with the show's VHS release. I absolutely believe they were a real thing—they're probably based on the underpants that Yuno is waving around on the phone card above—I just want to see what they looked like. Did they have a lacy pattern, and also an unsubtle © Hikaru Yuzuki / Sony Music Entertainment statement stamped on there? Unfortunately, none of these promo items have survived, and fans would have to spend over a decade before they'd get real, proper promotional ladies' underpants, which came with ADV Films' release of Najica.
I also confirmed one final detail about I Give My All that I'd long read about in Helen McCarthy and Jonathan Clements' indispensable Anime Encyclopedia, which stated that the OVA got a promotional theatrical run with the horror tale Digital Devil Story. This always seemed confusing and unlikely to me, because while OVAs sometimes ran in theatres as part of multiple billings, they usually shared publishers or production companies. But not only are I Give My All and Digital Devil Story thematically totally different, they have different publishers—the latter was from Tokuma Shoten, while the former was a joint production of Sony and Shueisha. But after a little digging, sure enough…
Yep, the promotional leaflet confirms it, and even has stamps from both publishers in the corners. What a weird pair of OVAs to present in theatres. I kinda wish I'd gotten to see the premiere of these. You wanna go back in time and avert every great crisis of the 20th century? Knock yourself out, I'm gonna be going to the theatrical premiere of this double feature. Another odd detail is the fact that Digital Devil Story came out in English—but only in the UK, where it got a subtitled VHS release. It's not an altogether terrible feature, either—it's based on a series of horror novels that spawned the Megami Tensei video games, it's got those cool, snub-nosed Hiroyuki Kitazume character designs, and since it's a late-80s story about computers, all the PCs featured constantly emit loud bloops and bleeps.
What Digital Devil Story also has is a theme song title that is probably meant to be evocative and mysterious, but sounds more like something the clerk at the Optician store might yell when they see a customer trying to use industrial strength lens cleaner as eyedrops.
After checking out I Give My All, one question sticks in my head: What would've happened to that big first wave of anime in video rental stores if it'd been spearheaded by something like this, instead of, well, M.D. Geist? Would the Focus on the Family people have gotten their torches, pitchforks, and Frankenstein rakes and chased all the anime out of Blockbuster? It's also amusing to look back at the scandal raised by I Give My All, because by then, hentai anime was already showing up in smaller video stores. I'm talking about these clearly reputable, sophisticated pieces of entertainment:
Yeah, you can tell that this is the good stuff, even though I had to slightly alter the cover art to make it safe for work. (Don't worry, your boss totally won't mind seeing GONAD THE BARBARIAN splashed across your browser.) I think it is genuinely lamentable that the brilliant historical curiosity that was Cream Lemon was only able to get a release that looks like this, but hey, it is still really filthy pornography, too. With Gonad the Barbarian (an artful change from the original title, Lolita Fantasy OME-1) already floating around, Central Park Media's big mistake was in seeking publicity for their new title. But the release was shitcanned, and the tapes were destroyed. Since the copyright was held by Sony Music Entertainent, I'll bet that the chain of ownership now dictates that Aniplex has the rights to I Give My All. Is it time for a lavish, expensive Blu-Ray set?! No, probably not.
I'll leave you with this. By way of apology for the inconvenience, Sony presented CPM with another of their exciting, cutting-edge OVA releases: Dog Soldier. That's the punchline, I'm ending it right there. So let's think about what might have been, and about how instead, we got Dog Soldier.
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