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Monday, October 21, 2013

Circuit no Ohkami II: Modena no Ken: When the Breast Hits Your Eye, Like a Big Panty-Pie... That's Amore

Number 2 in Gainax's ignored OVAs comes from the same place as Beat Shot!!, i.e. the pages of mangaka Satoshi Ikezawa. Though he debuted back in 1970, Ikezawa wouldn't have a real hit until 1975, when he debuted Circuit no Ohkami/The Circuit Wolf in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump; it was the story of Yuuya Fubuki, who dreamed of becoming F1 Champion. Ending in 1979, & lasting 27 volumes, the racing manga was one of Jump's earlier "big hits" (i.e. before the likes of Kochikame, Ring ni Kakero, & Kinnikuman debuted), and even saw a live-action movie adaptation in 1977 directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, who previously directed the Sister Street Fighter movie series & Karate Bearfighter. Ten years later, Ikezawa returned to his iconic manga with a sequel, subtitled Modena no Ken/Ken of Modena, which starred a new main character & ran in Weekly Playboy magazine (because all sequels to older Jump manga either ran in Weekly Playboy or Super Jump... No exceptions) until 1995, lasting 25 volumes; in fact, this might be the first sequel ever made to a Shonen Jump classic. In late 1990, a 45-minute OVA based on this sequel was animated by Gainax & released on VHS & LD. So, after the intensely dull & (oddly) erotic Beat Shot!!, can Circuit no Ohkami pick up the slack?

I'm only using "Ohkami" instead of "Okami"
because the OVA uses the former on the title splash.

Ken Ferrari is a Japanese/Italian F1 racer-in-training from Modena, Italy, who lives in Tokyo. After helping a photographer named Aiko Yoshinaga out with a car problem, & escaping a group of bikers that they rushed past, the two become "close friends". At the same time, Ken meets a high school student named Eri Hayami, who he also becomes smitten with, but after saving her from some rough bullies he becomes the target of said bullies' leader, Hebijima. They kidnap Eri while Ken races against her brother, Tohru (a skilled street racer nicknamed "The White Wolf"), so it's up to the two racers to team up & save Eri.

Satoshi Ikezawa is apparently a big fan of high-end sports cars, and Circuit no Ohkami II definitely showcases this. For those who are familiar with titles like Initial D or Wangan Midnight, which feature more "easily-accessible" vehicles, Ohkami is all about vehicles like the Nissan Skyline GT-R, models from Bugatti & Porsche, & (as pictured above) the Ferrari Dino. Theses are very nice vehicles to imagine seeing in action, & it helps give the title an identity that keeps it different from its contemporaries. I almost felt uncomfortable seeing something like a Ferrari get dinged up & damaged, so I can guess that the OVA succeeded in delivering this love of sports cars. Finally, Ken is purposefully vague about whether his last name is truly "Ferrari", or if it's simply a racing moniker. The OVA even tosses in a quick moment where Ken hears about Enzo Ferrari's death & mentally falls apart, making it likely that it takes place in 1988, the year Ferrari himself died.

There are some similarities between both Ikezawa works, the biggest one being that both feature leads who are cocky & perverted. Ken is extremely eager to show off his skills in any car he's in, but especially Ferraris (naturally), but he's also just as eager to catch a glimpse at a girl's panties or breasts. He makes no bones about it, in fact: Ken knows what he likes, & what he likes are cute girls. Luckily, this OVA shows restraint over the previous OVA by not showing any (useless) sex scenes; two with Aiko are obviously indicated, but are never actually shown. Thankfully, though, there is one big difference between Circuit no Ohkami II & Beat Shot!!, and that is that the former is not boring or dull in the slightest. The characters here are interesting, the cars are cool to look at, & the driving action is enticing. Hell, even Ken's perverted antics are more interesting than anything Kyoichi Sasuga did. That said, there are still some obvious flaws.

The biggest is that, for something based on a racing manga, there isn't really any racing to be found. There's a lot of driving & chases, but there's only one real "race", and that's the one between Ken & Tohru... Which gets cut short when Hebijima crashes the party & kidnaps Eri. It's kind of sad that the dull golf OVA beats out the more interesting racing OVA simply by the fact that it showed more of its sport. That said, the chase scenes by both the Skyline GT-R driver (from the biker gang) & Hebijima's goons are both neat to watch, & the final chase scene (Ken & Tohru chasing Hebijima & his second-in-command) is fun to watch as well. There are some odd moments to be had, though, such as when Ken makes a sudden (read: nigh-instantaneous) 180-turn without any sense of lost momentum, or when Ken sneaks between a bunch of cars in a parking deck. Another problem is that Aiko is pretty worthless in the overall scheme of things, honestly. She looks important in the first half, & Ken seems to like her, but once Eri gets introduced Aiko gets completely forgotten about & it feels more like all Ken wanted Aiko for was her breasts & butt... Really smooth there, Ken.

Another nagging problem is that, once again, Gainax really didn't put as much of a budget behind this production. At first glance, the characters look a little worse than they did in Beat Shot!!, but after seeing some images of Ikezawa's artwork it seems more like the character designer Satoshi Yamaguchi & director Yoshihide Kuriyama, neither of which are known names, simply wanted to be accurate to Ikezawa's style; in that regard the OVA is accurate, because Ikezawa has a simpler, "basic" style. Still, though the animation is fluid & constantly moving for the most part, this isn't one of Gainax's finer works. There are even some animation errors that don't seem to be normal for the studio, such as Aiko's car being the wrong color in one shot, or Ken's wheel turns not exactly matching the direction the car goes. Granted, it still looks better than Beat Shot!! overall, but this won't be a prime example of why Gainax is so esteemed in terms of animation. Likewise, the music, credited to a group called "GL 48", is serviceable; it works for the scenes & is even a little catchy while watching the OVA, but you'll forget about it right away.

Thankfully, the voice cast does a good job. Masaya Onosaka (Leeron in Gurren Lagann, Zhao Yun in the Dynasty Warriors series) delivers an excellent Ken; Onosaka seems to be ideal for cocky perverts for some reason. Aiko is voiced by Arisa Andou (Airi in Fist of the North Star, Aira Mu in Violence Jack: Evil Town), who does a fine job with the character, so it's weird to see Aiko simply be forgotten in the second half. Tohru is voiced by Kouichi Hashimoto (Cygnus Hyoga in Saint Seiya, Captain Kuro in One Piece), who does a nice performance with his deep tone. Eri is voiced by Yoshino Takamori (Nadia in Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, Trisha Elric in both Fullmetal Alchemist animes), who likewise does a good job. Finally, Hebijima is voiced by Masashi Hironaka (Kircheis in Legend of Galactic Heroes), who delivers a properly-slimy villain.

Circuit no Ohkami II: Modena no Ken is an interesting OVA, with fun characters, cool cars, & it keeps your interest, which makes it much better than the previous Ikezawa-based OVA. Unfortunately, it also isn't exactly a good example of why Gainax is known for delivering very nice-looking animation; it still screams "low-budget animation" in some really rough ways. In the end, I would have to call this a mixed bag in that the content is interesting & worth checking out (too bad there's no subtitles), but the execution has its problems. Luckily, if you're interested in checking out this franchise, you can actually get the original Jump manga in English... Legally! Just load up your Android device & search for "Colorcomix"; the first 5 volumes of The Circuit Wolf are available there, in English & full-color. You just find the craziest things on those smartphone stores...

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