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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Goddamn: Rallying in Kenya for Fun & Sport

Happy Leap Day! Considering how Leap Day, February 29, only comes around once every 4 years I can't miss this opportunity to post a review on such a rare day of extra time... And since Leap Day is all about "time", why not review a sports anime where time is essential? Let's rally!

Kaoru Shintani is easily most well known around anime & manga fandom for his legendary dog-fighting manga Area 88, which was one of the very first manga released in North America back in the mid-80s. But Shintani has also worked on a couple of other notable titles since his big hit, like Cleopatra DC, doing the character designs for mech anime Uchuu Taitei God Sigma, as well as the Sherlock Holmes spin-off manga Christie: High Tension (which Seven Seas will be releasing in a couple of weeks under the title Young Miss Holmes). But Shintani was also the creator of what might be the only manga about rally racing, or rallying for short: Goddamn (named after the main character's habit of saying said phrase). Running from 1988 to 1990 in the pages of Big Comic Superior (home to titles like Azumi, Moonlight Mile, & Team Medical Dragon), Goddamn was adapted into a two-episode OVA in 1990 by Studio Signal, whose only other work I can find is the anime adaptation of Go Nagai's Shuten Doji. Even if the original manga isn't the only rally manga in existence (and I'm sure that there are others out there), I'm pretty sure that Goddamn is the only rally anime in existence, but does that alone make it worth watching?

Gen Todoroki has great skills in rally racing, but also has a bad habit of damaging the car he's driving enough to retire him from the race he's in. After retiring from the Monte Carlo Rally in Paris, Gen is approached by Tsukasa Rokkouji, a higher-up at Seiou Sports; Rokkouji wants Seiou to sponsor a rally team for the upcoming Safari Rally in Kenya, and he feels that Gen has the skills to be a great driver for the team. Unfortunately, Gen's recon run with navigator Dick Van Dyke doesn't work out, so fellow driver Raul Uzbek Shin decides to trade places with Gen, giving him Rov Lowe, a lesser-experienced navigator. If Gen wants to pull out a good ranking for his team, then he'll have to get through the rally with little to no trouble... If that's even possible for Gen to do.

Goddamn is interesting as the rallying and drivers isn't the only focus in this OVA. The reason Rokkouji wants Seiou to sponsor a rally team is so that the company can get in good relations with the Polignac Group, which is the biggest distribution company in Europe. The European nations recently enacted the EC, which will result in great wealth and business expansion for those nations, and Rokkouji feels that Japan will end up falling behind if they don't get involved. Unfortunately, fellow higher-up Utsugi wants Seiou to expand via business politics, so in between portions of Gen's story you see these small pieces of Rokkouji's story. The idea is a neat one, but at the same time you sometimes just want to go back to the rallying. These sections involving Utsugi are kind of slow and not always interesting, though Area 88 fans will find it interesting to see minor character Taeko Yasuda appear as a recurring Seiou employee in these scenes, a case of Shintani using Tezuka's Star System.

On the other hand, how's the rally part of the story? It's handled as a neat mix of slower-paced, calm driving when nothing much is happening, followed by scenes where something exciting happens, usually Gen having some trouble with a certain area of the course or him damaging his car in some fashion. Really, Gen and Rov (an obvious reference to actor Rob Lowe, and remember Dick Van Dyke?) take the major spotlight here, like when Rov realizes that Gen works with his own style of driving (instead of easy, medium, and hard, Gen prefers hearing Pine, Bamboo, & Plum, respectively, and Gen uses music to judge time), with Dick and Shin getting a little bit of focus here and there. There's also Hans Schultz, a member of the Toyota team, who is shown to be a rival-of-sorts for Gen in Episode 1 but is mostly forgotten about in Episode 2, as well as Josephine Polignac, or Cottie for short, an experienced female driver from the family Rokkouji is trying to get Seiou to team with, who befriends Gen but ends up being nothing more than an extra character in the OVA. I'm going to guess that this is more a case of the OVA skipping out on a few parts from the manga, combined with the fact that, from what I can tell, the manga shows off two more rallys (the Swedish and Olympus Rallys), so there's a good chance that some of these characters get a larger focus after the Safari Rally, and therefore come off as much more minor in the OVA. Still, the story that's told here is entertaining enough, and the ending is actually surprisingly somber.

Even though Studio Signal is effectively a no-name studio they do a great job with Goddamn, with the driving scenes having great motion and even the slower scenes looking really well done for an early-90s OVA. The character designs, animation direction, and overall direction were all handled by Noboru Furuse, who has worked on a few Lupin the 3rd TV specials, Urusei Yatsura, and, appropriately enough, the Bari Bari Densetsu anime and the first season of Initial D. Furuse obviously knows how to handle anime that involves vehicular racing, and that only helps Goddamn out. I can't find who did the music, but it works just fine in this OVA, though there's nothing truly memorable outside of what's used during the ending credits. Kouichi Yamadera voices Gen and does a great job making the character sound entertaining... Plus, he does a really good "goddamn!". The late Hirotaka Suzuoki voices Rokkouji in his usual-sounding voice, but that was his style and it usually worked out great. Ryusei Nakao (Mayuri in Bleach, Freiza in DBZ) voices Rov and does a great job making him sound like the young, almost child-looking character he comes off as. Rounding out the cast is Masahi Ebara (Dick Van Dyke), Toshihiko Seki (Hans Schultz), and Yuriko Fuchizaki (Cottie) for the main cast, and overall it is a well-done production.

Goddamn is definitely a one-of-a-kind sports anime, since it deals with rally racing. Even though some characters don't get the same focus that they are indicated to get and the non-rally stuff isn't quite as entertaining the overall story is fun to watch and it delivers on more than just being a unique sports anime. Totaling at only 5 volumes, I really want to see what happens next in the story via the manga, especially considering how the Safari Rally ends. There are no scanlations for Goddamn, and I actually didn't even know of this title until a few days ago, but I can definitely say that I will never forget this title, if only because of it's memorable name and unique sport of choice. I do wonder if the licensing costs for this title would still be kind of high nowadays, though, since there are so many actual company logos and names in it (Toyota, Subaru, and Lancia are spoken heavily due to the teams' use of the cars, and the Ford & Marlboro logos are easily seen a good number of times), not to mention that the actual World Rally Championship/WRC is used as the organization behind the rallys in the anime... Not that I see this OVA ever being licensed, but it just makes me wonder. Anyway, Goddamn is definitely worth checking out; the name alone will catch your interest, but the actual subject matter will keep you entertained.

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