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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Prefectural Earth Defense Force: It's Not Quite Excel Saga, ADV, But It Works

Prefectural Earth Defense Force is certainly an interesting little OVA. Based on a four-volume manga by Koichiro Yasunaga that ran in Weekly Shonen Sunday back in the 80s, this 1986 OVA is simply a parody of 80s anime and it does so really well. ADV released this OVA on DVD back in 2006 sub-only and is actually slightly infamous because of that release, but we'll get to that later. For now, let's talk about what this title is about.

The evil Telephone Pole Group wants to take over the world, but they know that many other evil organizations have failed by going straight for ruling over a country or a giant city. So the TPG decides to start small by trying to take over a small prefecture in Japan. But little prefectures also have their own small defense forces, so the governor calls upon the Prefectural Earth Defense Force... Which doesn't exist. Quick, just grab three high-school kids who can't even recruit players to make their own baseball team and they'll become the protectors of their home prefecture!

Yeah, the story isn't terribly important and the OVA knows that, though it certainly tries and succeeds well enough. Though there are four episodes to this OVA, the entire thing only lasts about 50 minutes and it never stops being entertaining. The three teens who make up the PEDF, Morita, Sukekubo, and Akiko, are very quick to accept their new job even though they have no real idea what to do when it comes to protecting the prefecture. Then there's Santin, an Indian exchange student who ended up in a traffic accident before the story starts and was "accidentally" turned into a 8000 horsepower cyborg, complete with missile launchers hidden in his shoulders, and hates Japanese people for turning his life in hell. And Santin is actually the best member of the PEDF... Actually, scratch that, as he's the only useful member of the group. Hell, Akiko isn't even important after the first story and all Morita and Sukekubo do throughout the OVA is mess up and fail. And I love it.

And, naturally, the Telephone Pole Group is equally as pathetic. It's lead by Chilthonia, who loves drinking milk every morning, and is comprised of Scope Tsuruzaki, whose special ability is to change shades that let him view in different ways (like infrared and X-Ray), and Baradagi, a high-school student who is second-in-command as a part-time job. There's also the minions, who all wear white masks that say "minion" on them and are extremely underpaid. Much like the PEDF they are about as pathetic, if only slightly smarter, but at least Chilthonia is actually evil overall.

But, yeah, the characters are only part of the equation, as this is a full-on comedy. The comedy here is pretty much all parody as well as sitcom style. When the PEDF make their debut against the TPG they do so in a full-on Super Sentai posing style, complete with a giant robot (that is never seen again). Morita is very hot-blooded, so much so in fact that when he's burning with the flames of justice Sukekubo uses it to dry his clothes off since they thrown in the river a couple of minutes back. When Baradagi explains that her parents died by eating a flare, there's a flashback showing a Godzilla-like monster eating a flare, followed by Baradagi thinking to herself how weird that image was. And then there's the usual usage of puns and references, where your mileage can vary, though ADV does include translation notes on the DVD via a menu option to explain them. Overall, the jokes work really well and when combined with the enjoyable characters everything combines together well.

Since this was an OVA made in the mid-80s the animation, produced by Studio Gallop, is actually very nicely done. There's a lot of fluid movement that contains a lot of detail, there's a fairly heavy usage of single-frame jokes (mostly word bubbles), and overall the OVA looks very nice and actually does show how good the old hand-drawn style could be; there's of course better examples out there, but PEDF is no slouch in this regard. The voice work is full of legendary voice actors, like Tohru Furuya (Morita), Hirotaka Suzuoki (Santin), Tessho Genda (Skuekubo), and Shuichi Ikeda (Chilthonia), and everyone pulls out great performances. The music works but isn't especially memorable, though the opening theme and insert songs, all sing by a trio called Johnny, Louis, and Char, are almost appropriately sung off-key and are odd in general. The ending theme is a slower theme, still sung off-key, that works well as an ending to the entire thing, especially since the footage is nothing but Morita and Baradagi slowly entering a relationship.

Like I said in the beginning ADV released this OVA on DVD back in 2006. This was ADV's attempt at releasing a sub-only DVD at a cheap price and making it online-only. The main problem was that ADV wanted to sell it only through their own website, which was known for having a very rough online store, and when other retailers like Right Stuf, RACS, and Amazon started taking pre-orders, ADV told them to stop and remove their listings. The big problem was that this resulted in a very confusing release manner, especially when other online retailers started selling it and the whole thing in general was a big mess. Now the DVD is a little tricky to find at a fair price, though I think it's still possible. Luckily, the OVA is viewable over at The Anime Network's online streaming website. The DVD itself is nicely done and even includes a commentary track by Matt Greenfield, David Williams, and Janice Williams. The track itself is somewhat informative as they talk about the voice actors, some of the jokes, and how they originally saw this OVA back when it came out via Greenfield's anime club. The three do make a good group to listen to, though, and there are other releases ADV did that have commentaries by these three; I know of Devil Hunter Yohko and Megazone 23, and there might be another one or two out there.

Prefectural Earth Defense Force is definitely a funny and short little OVA to check out. While I don't really agree with ADV's insistence that "Before there was Excel Saga, there was Prefectural Earth Defense Force!", I will say that it's still a fun watch and if you're interested in seeing something from the 80s that's animated well and can give you a nice laugh then PEDF definitely delivers. It's made me interested in reading the manga, though it's not available in English in any way. Oh well, that's what happens with titles like these.

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