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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

California Crisis: Gun Salvo: Anime That's Untouchable Like Eliot Ness

Only in the 80s...

Only in the 80s could an anime like California Crisis: Tsuigeki no Hibana (which translates to "Gunfire Pursuit", but everyone likes using "Gun Salvo") be made. The 80s is often referred to as "The Golden Age of Anime", and can agree to that for my own reasons, and California Crisis is proof positive of that term. This was a decade where literally anything could be made into an anime as long as one had an idea, access to an animation studio, & money to spend... And in 1980s Japan money was easy to be had. Now, yes, that means that there's a lot of random OVAs from this decade, many of which are simply average at absolute best, but from a creativity standpoint the 80s OVA boom was that very "Golden Age". This specific production from 1986 represents both the best & the worst of said OVA boom, but it sure has a metric ton of fun doing so.

Noera is a simple man who works a simple job in the San Diego area. One morning on the drive to work he meets up with Marcia, a feisty girl on a motorcycle, before the two get stuck between a car chase between a van & a couple of big rigs. One of the big rigs goes off the cliff, along with Noera & Marcia, and before it explodes Marcia decides to take what was inside the trailer: A large black orb that, when touched by the two, shows a landscape of Death Valley. Marcia insists on going there to solve this mystery, and Noera essentially has no choice in the matter because the two are being chased by the local air force, where Noera's friend Jack Varo works, & some Kremlin agents, both of which want the "Space Mind", a.k.a. the orb Marcia stole.

California Crisis is essentially a string of car chases with a few slower-paced character-focused scenes in between each chase; in other words, it's a shorter version of an 80s action flick. In that regard this OVA actually succeeds in what it aims to do, because the chases are fast, exciting, and intense. Even when Noera has to ditch his Chrysler convertible because it overheats & he ends up buying a Ford pickup the action doesn't change much; if anything, it becomes even crazier. Racing trains to pass them in time, shooting a pickup until it's down to almost nothing but its frame, ramming cars into each other, and even launching a truck into an army helicopter (take that, Live Free or Die Hard!) are just some of the things you'll see in this OVA, and all of it looks really damn cool. Granted, it's also pretty ridiculously unrealistic (Noera's convertible dies from a case of overheating instead of the gunshots & cliff falling it did prior!), but that's kind of the appeal, honestly.

Thankfully, the characters are actually pretty entertaining themselves & stays to a really small cast. Marcia has a lot of spunk yet manages to keep from being intrusively annoying, even though her obsession with the Space Mind orb does come off a little too delusional; hell, she stole it without even knowing what to do with it! Considering how energetic Marcia is, I actually ended up feeling bad for Noera, because he's no action hero. He's just a regular guy who happened to get caught up in this whole deal with the Space Mind & is now having to drive Marcia & her cat to Death Valley, with him only really agreeing to it when he realizes that Captain Cain of the air force has his men looking for him. Did I forget to mention that this whole deal got him fired from his job, not to mention costing him his sweet car? Yeah, I can't help but feel for Noera, man. The fact that he kind of looks like a scruffier version of Cobra the Space Pirate doesn't hurt, either. Jack, Noera's friend, honestly doesn't have much to do in this story. The most we see is him admitting that he & his partner are essentially just pawns to Captain Cain, and when he comes across Noera at a bar he doesn't even know that he's essentially caught the man he's after. Oh well, Jack doesn't really care, so why should I? Finally, Cain is your usual type of army villain from the 80s: He wants power & will do anything to get it. During the final chase at Death Valley he even forces the pilot of the helicopter he's in to fly into a narrowing crevice, resulting in the chopper's wings grinding the walls & crashing violently as a fireball... And Cain emerges out of the fire just fine! Oh, that's another notable thing about this OVA: It has no regard for civilian safety. Seriously, other drivers are crashed into, pilots are forced into death traps, people are run over, and even a random group of punks who moon Noera & Marcia in their car are flipped over by the Kremlin agents without even a care for their safety; it's crazy.

Probably the most notable thing about California Crisis, though, is the visual style. To put it bluntly, there is almost nothing like it in anime history. Character designer & animation director Matsuri Okuda (Tenku Senki Shurato, Legend of the Galactic Heroes) tries to go for a more realistic look & features a whole lot of multi-layered shading. Even Marcia's eyes are given this kind of shading, making her look pretty wild. At the same time, though, this poster-ish look does make the anime look a tad bit realistic & it really makes this OVA one-of-a-kind. The closest anime has really come to looking like this was with Megazone 23 Part II, which came out a couple of months prior, but even that doesn't quite look like California Crisis. It's a really interesting style that simply adds to the overall package, though at the same time it does make the OVA also look intensely 80s. It's definitely a bold direction to go in, and while it never really appeared again after this OVA I wouldn't say that it was a bad choice. Different & wild, yes, but not "bad".

Like I said at the beginning, this decade was a time when literally anyone with money & an idea could make an anime, even if they didn't really amount to anything; Studio Unicorn was a great example of this. Having done key & finish animation on productions like Lupin the 3rd: Part III & Dirty Pair: Affair on Nolandia, Studio Unicorn themselves only made two productions of their own, both in 1986: Circuit Angel: Ketsui no Starting Grid (a one-episode motorcycling OVA) & California Crisis, which ended up being Unicorn's last production ever. As for the production itself, this definitely had to be a personal project of Mizuho Nishikubo (Otogi Zoshi, Zillion, Video Girl Ai), who not only directed this OVA but also wrote the script. From a direction standpoint Nishikubo does really well, with everything animating very fluidly when needed & overall there's no errors to notice.

From a writing standpoint, though, he falters due to a lack of cohesion. The story, while entertaining, is essentially doing the opposite of what's needed, i.e. it's too simple when it needs complexity & too detailed when only the basics are needed. For example, we find out that Noera, Jack, & their friends were San Diego's best street basketball team ten years ago, but we learn nothing about Marcia in comparison. There's also the fact that Jack is essentially a non-factor in the story, but the biggest problem is with the Space Mind. As viewers we never find out what exactly this black orb is, the Kremlin agents are essentially tossed in because the Cold War was going on at the time, and the ending is so sudden that it brings closure to nothing. That being said, the writing doesn't kill the experience, but it definitely hurts it. Masaki Kurihara (Azumanga Daioh) does a nice job with the music, though, whch fits the feel & mood of the OVA perfectly, but the real attraction is Miho Fujiwara, who performs a good few songs for the OVA. Opening & ending theme "Streets Are Hot" is a really cool song that doesn't quite stick in your head at first, but afterwards you can't get it out of your head. The insert songs, "Eyes", "Heartbeat", & "Next Move", are all interesting as well, but none of them can quite match up to "Streets Are Hot".

Yes, and it's the choice of a new generation... Yes, I know
that was Pepsi's slogan, but the image is too perfect.

The voice work is also good, with Yoshito Yasuhara (Aoshi Shinomori in Rurouni Kenshin, Dr. Vegapunk in One Piece) leading the cast as Noera, who delivers a very believable "regular guy" who just can't believe the adventure he's gotten himself into. Marcia is voiced by Miina Tominaga (Senritsu in Hunter X Hunter 2011, Yahiko Myoujin in Rurouni Kenshin), who keeps your interest by being full of energy while also being oddly spontaneous at times; she offers to sleep with Noera at a hotel, who understandably denies her. Jack is performed by the late Kaneto Shiozawa, who surprisingly manages to fit his character by sounding as straight-minded & semi-bored as Jack does. Finally, Captain Cain is voiced by Kousei Tomita (the original voice of Dr. Hell from the Mazinger franchise, Dr. Saotome in Getter Robo), who does both a calm & conniving voice as well as a crazed, power-hungry maniac at the end.

Truly, only in the 80s could an anime like California Crisis: Gun Salvo be made, and I mean that both in a good way as well as in a bad way. In the negative the story doesn't really go anywhere & one of the "major" characters has no real point being involved, but in the positive the journey to the end is exciting & intense, the characters are still entertaining, and the visual style is truly all its own. As the VHS cover indicated, this OVA was advertising that "Now, a new wind to the anime scene!!" was coming, and it wasn't exactly lying as the OVA boom brought with it tons of short productions like this that brought with them all kinds of ideas...  It's just that Studio Unicorn wouldn't be joining this new run of anime; they would only introduce it. If anything, "The Golden Age of Anime" gives me a lot of potential titles to review on this blog, but for the moment I'll only make one more trip back to this era before the next month starts.
And I'm turning it loose.


  1. I wonder if the prime ambition of this OVA was to be a sort of synthesis between a pulp and an anime, art-wise. I just can't shake off the feeling, as Calfornia Crisis is so unique in that regard. At any rate, this title had potential, it's just that it needed one competent director...

  2. "Character designer & animation director Matsuri Okuda (Tenku Senki Shurato, Legend of the Galactic Heroes) tries to go for a more realistic look & features a whole lot of multi-layered shading. Even Marcia's eyes are given this kind of shading, making her look pretty wild. At the same time, though, this poster-ish look does make the anime look a tad bit realistic & it really makes this OVA one-of-a-kind."

    The fact that both the characters, vehicles and backgrounds alone are given the same treatment, it blurrs the line between the characters and foreground/background elements that otherwise had that limitation brought on by the way normal cel animation is done (backgrounds in a normal show would not be outlined for instance unless it was made to be animated such as you see in anime). By having done it this way, it made it rather consistent that there was no differences between the characters or the worlds they inhabited. There's been relatively a few cartoons as of recent that have done similar approaches like The Simpsons.

    Hearing you're doing one more review from this period, I don't suppose that title would be "Bobby's Girl", but I would recommend checking that out if you can.