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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Combustible Campus Guardress: Big Trouble in Hagiwara-Akahori

Though Bastard!! is the only anime adaptation of a Kazushi Hagiwara manga, mainly because every other Hagiwara manga is either a one-shot or a doujin, it isn't Hagiwara's only anime.  In 1994 Shueisha teamed with Production I.G. to create a four-episode OVA, released under the V-Jump Video label, based on an original idea created by an extremely interesting collaboration, that of Kazushi Hagiwara & Satoru Akahori, the man behind titles like the Saber Marionette series, Sorcerer Hunters, Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~, & the Sakura Wars series.  The result was Bakuen CAMPUS Guardress, which is commonly translated as Combustible Campus Guardress, an OVA that shows that sometimes being a roller coaster ride of comedy & action is all you really need.


Existing parallel to Earth is a dimension called the Dark World, which is inhabited by creatures called Remnants.  Back in ancient times the Remnants tried invading Earth but were kept at bay by a group of warriors called Guardians; one of them, Kairen, sacrificed his life to seal the gate to the Dark World, stranding the Remnants who made it to Earth.  Now, 30,000 years later, the seal is weakening and the leader of the Remnants, Touta Kijima, is readying his troops in an attempt to open to gate once again.  The Guardians who stopped Kijima, though, have reincarnated and are ready to fight him off and seal the gate a second time.  Unfortunately, Hazumi Jinno, the amnesiac reincarnation of the woman who stopped Kijima 30,000 years ago, wants nothing but to marry her brother Takumi, who is the reincarnation of Kairen, even though Takumi is needed to seal the gate once again (don't worry, they're not related by blood).  Also, Hazumi is known as the "Queen of Friendly Fire" by her fellow Guardians, due to her knack for creating wanton destruction whenever she fights, so there's a fair chance that Kijima and the Remnants might win the fight this time...

Combustible Campus Guardress' greatest quality is how the styles of Hagiwara and Akahori mix together so well.  Hagiwara's crazy action, self-mocking humor, and freakish monster designs are a perfect mix for Akahori's zany comedy, fanservice, and human drama.  For example, though there are plenty of Guardians who fight using more traditional means (like Hazumi's giant sword or Chiryuu's spear & martial arts), there are also those who fight using outright ridiculous methods (like Hauzmi's mother, who fights with housewife-themed weaponry, or the ramen store owner, who fights using his home-cooked noodles).  I do mention fanservice, but one must remember that this predates the days of in-your-face fanservice, though it does stay dirty-minded; Chiryuu, for example, loves peeking at Hazumi's panties up close (literally, he puts his head under Hazumi's skirt), even when he looks to be at death's door.  Even with all of this zaniness, though, the OVA does show off some really nice character drama as well, with the main focus being on Hazumi's conflicting feelings, especially after realizing that Takumi must die in order to seal the gate.  Does she protect Takumi so that he can fulfill his duty but die in the process or does she put her own feelings in front and keep Takumi to herself, while allowing the Remnants to win the fight?  You can really understand Hazumi's dilemma, combined with her odd yet hilarious ways of handling it, and even Kijima's own reasons for wanting to destroy humanity has a sense of understanding to it.

Hagiwara designed all of the characters, and they definitely carry his usual style, with Hazumi looking at times like a female Dark Schneider, though nowhere near as psychotic, and his Remnant designs, both in human and monster forms, look awesome and pretty varied; you certainly won't mistake Kijima with the likes of McCoy, who is designed like an okama/transvestite.  The story is also very tightly written, making the OVA feel like it could have also worked really well as a 2-hour movie.  There's no portion of the story that feels unneeded and if there's something negative to say about the production in general it's that you want there to be more of it.  You can tell that Hagiwara & Akahori had great fun creating these characters, and it's sad that they're only used in these four episodes.  Though you get a good sense for each character and who they are, you also want to simply see more of them.  Even the ending, which in true Hagiwara and Akahori fashion isn't exactly traditional in execution, allows for more stories to be told.  Still, what there is is highly entertaining.

Guardress was directed by Toshihiko Nishikubo (a.k.a. Mizuho Nishikubo), who also directed Zillion, Video Girl Ai, & Otogi Zoshi, and you can tell that Nishikubo knows how to handle both great action as well as great drama.  The music was done by Fumitaka Anzai, who also composed for Urusei Yatsura, Odin - Starlight Mutiny, & B't X Neo, and it's a nice mix of serious themes for the fights and more lighthearted fare for the comedy.  The ending theme is "Innocent Heart" by Kei-Tee, and though you can argue that Kei-Tee herself has a somewhat annoying sound to her voice the song itself really fits the style of the OVA and actually reminds me of, entertainingly enough, John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China...  And that's nothing but good in my book.  There is no opening theme, though the beginning of episode 3 features an insert theme, "Love Diary" by Rica Matsumoto, which is an upbeat song that fits the footage that's playing along with it, which is mostly shots of school life.

The voice cast is filled with impressive performances, with Rica Matsumoto taking the lead as Hazumi; Matsumoto tends to do a great job with strong-hearted characters who have some personal dilemma put upon them, and her performance as Hazumi is no different.  Chiryuu is voiced by Kouichi Yamadera (Spike in Cowboy Bebop, Togusa in the Ghost in the Shell series, Ryoji Kaji in Evangelion), and does a great job as a tough but not always serious man.  Takumi is voiced by Akira Ishida (Athrun Zala in Gundam Seed, Judeau in Berserk TV, Kaworu Nagisa in Evangelion), and is likewise as impressive in Takumi's seemingly aloof style.  The rest of the cast includes the likes of Akio Ohtsuka (Kijima), Takehito Koyasu (Superintendent Tenkuu), & Fumihiko Tachiki (McCoy), among others.

Believe it or not, Guardress was somewhat close to being licensed at one point.  "Ask John" Oppliger of online store AnimeNation actually admitted that the company had considered licensing Guardress a few years before the company actually tried their hand at licensing under the name AN Entertainment.  Unfortunately, there were apparently licensing issues, which kept the OVA from getting picked up, and that's sad to hear as Guardress would have easily been a much better licensing decision than Miami Guns (AN's other two licenses, Risky Safety & HarĂ©+Guu, were just fine, though).  Who knows what the issues might have been: Shueisha wanting too much money, the fact that the OVA didn't have a DVD release at the time (and still doesn't have one to this day), or something else entirely.  It is sad to hear that Guardress was on a company's licensing radar at one point, though, since it looks nigh-impossible now.


Much like how "Innocent Heart" reminds me of Big Trouble in Little China, Combustible Campus Guardress as a whole reminds me of that movie.  Big Trouble was a fun-hearted, comedic action movie that wasn't afraid to poke fun at itself, and Guardress is very similar in that regard.  Likewise, much like how I love watching Big Trouble every now and again, I wouldn't mind re-watching Guardress every now and then; it's one of those anime that never really gets old and is always entertaining to watch.  Though it's highly unlikely to ever see a license, I definitely say that it's worth hunting down and finding Combustible Campus Guardress, as it's a 2-hour ride of action, some slight fanservice, lots of excellent Production I.G. animation, and tons of comedy.  It doesn't try to be more than it has to be, and it's anime fun at it's most pure.  Fansubs are out there, so if you're the adventurous type hunt it down, grab some popcorn, and even some friends, and have a good time!

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