Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, & just general Happy Holidays to everyone! It's that time of the year, so once again, for the third time, I've become a part of the Reverse Thieves' Anime Secret Santa program, where anime writers/bloggers/podcasters anonymously recommend anime to each other in an attempt to get people to check out titles they'd normally not think of watching. This time around, I was recommended three OVAs, and I've decided to just go for one. First up was All-Purpose Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, which I did heavily consider, especially since the entire series (OVA & TV) did get re-released by Discotek Media earlier this year (along with the super-obscure UK dub for the OVA!). The second was both of the 3x3 Eyes OVA series, which I did actually see once, but it was over a decade ago, and I honestly don't remember too much of it; that being said, I'd love to see a license rescue for this, so I decided not to go with it. In the end, I decided to go with the last option, primarily because it was related to something I had covered on the blog before, which would fit perfectly with this being the "Year of Unfinished Business".
|I prefer using the original Japanese title splashes,|
but sometimes you just have to use what's on the DVD itself.
Saki Asamiya is a high school delinquent currently living out a sentence in solitary at a reformatory, when she's suddenly given a proposition by a man known only as Kurayami Keiji/The Dark Detective. She can get out of the reformatory & live a free life again, but only if she agrees to become an top-secret undercover agent to investigate a mysterious set of incidents happening at Takanoha High, her old stomping grounds, specifically regarding the Three Mizuchi Sisters, who transferred in after Saki got jailed & have effectively taken over the school. Similarly, after an accident involving two school buses crashing off of a cliff, killing over 70 (including some of the superintendents), their father Gozo Mizuchi just happened to become Director of Schools, which has resulted in the need for an undercover investigation. At first, Saki refuses, but when Kurayami says that her mother, who's on Death Row, will be executed if she doesn't take the job, Saki is left no choice but to accept. Luckily, she finds two friends in Sanpei Nowaki & Junko Yuina, both new transfers to Takanoha, & if things get too hot she does have support in the form of Kyoichiro Jin, a cop who's handling his own side of the investigation.
Sukeban Deka feels like a lost Osamu Dezaki anime, which is truly amazing simply because Dezaki & his constant character design ally Akio Sugino are nowhere to be found in this OVA; amusingly enough, Dezaki & Sugino were getting ready for the Dear Brother anime around this time. Instead, this OVA comes from J-H Project, a partnership between Japan Video Distribution Co. Ltd. & Harmony, with animation duties coming from the small name studio Sido Limited, which looks to be run by Takeshi Hirota (Hunter X Hunter: G.I. Final), who first made waves as a student in 1979 with his impressively self-produced Locke the Superman "pilot film"; I covered this film this past July, in fact. Considering that Hirota doesn't work on too much anime in general, & Sido Limited is a pretty minor studio, it's a downright shock how good this OVA looks, and especially how accurately it imitates Dezaki's iconic style. "Postcard Memories" are executed perfectly and at the right moments, there's at least one bit that utilizes the triple repeat shot that Dezaki made his own, and the story hits that hyper-dramatic milieu that Dezaki was an expert at. Though the OVA is from the early 90s, it intensely feels like its 70s origins, with pull-no-punches villains, heavily romanticized storytelling, and hard-hitting scenes that show no hesitation in being as rough as necessary, both in direct action & indirect situations. Similarly, the character designs by the legendary Nobuteru Yuki (Escaflowne, Record of Lodoss War) actually feel more like how Sugino would have interpreted Wada's style, though Yuki's style still shines through; it's a very striking mix that feels true to Wada's original artwork, while also being its own thing.
And, similar to the movie I reviewed back in 2016, it's the characters that shine the strongest in this OVA. Saki is interesting in that she's effectively a sukeban with a heart of gold, with her outward harshness really being nothing more than a veneer. She's only doing time because she took the fall for someone else, she initially claims to not care about her mother when offered the job, only to quickly go back on that & break down emotionally, and she makes some quick friends for someone who has a reputation for being a rough & tough delinquent. A perfect example of the last would be with Sanpei, a girl-hungry fool who immediately starts hitting on Saki, to her annoyance, but his sheer earnest dedication to her, which includes shaving his head right in front of her when she says that she hates guys with long hair, quickly endears himself to her; besides, he's perfectly harmless, & even surprises her when he reveals that he's a wiz with computers. Junko is the perfect counterpart to Saki, as she's soft spoken & polite compared to Saki's brashness & bluntness, and her sheer innocence makes Saki want to be there for her should things go wrong... Only for Saki to fail at that. Without going into direct spoilers, Junko's story in this OVA is completely heartbreaking and hints at some rather horrible things, though they are only what the viewer decides for themselves, which is what makes them all the more effective. Finally, there are Jyuzou Numa, a Takanoha teacher who's very by-the-books & slowly comes to realize the effect the Mizuchis have over the student populace, & Jin, who doesn't really do much, but the moments he is given show him off well.
In comparison, the villains here are done so in an absolutely blatant way, with next to no subtlety, but in all of the best ways. Effectively, the Three Mizuchi Sisters are all obsessed with one thing: Youngest child Emi wants nothing more than attention & glory, though her only talent is to copy others, so she has to steal from the talents of others, like Junko; middle child Ayumi is the most sukeban of them all, pretty much taking the leader role that Saki once had at the school, & has a never-ending craving for money; & oldest child Remi wants nothing more than all-reaching control. Similar to their namesake, all of the Mizuchi Sisters, & even Gozo, are vile snakes that truly are willing to go to any lengths to achieve their goals, even if it requires killing off their own kind, & show no mercy to anyone that gets in their path. In a perfect example, when Ayumi is put into a corner by Saki in the latter half of the story, Remi simply gives her a shotgun to kill Saki with. Again, these characters don't require any subtlety to their actions, though the snake visuals are admittedly a little over-used throughout the OVA, but the story plays this up by making them all as overly wrought & dramatized as possible; Remi even watches Saki & her friends while literally standing on top the school at one point. By the end, you wind up feeling like Saki & want to see them all downright killed for their actions... But, as Jin more or less tells Saki, police shouldn't kill with malice, but rather have to bring them to proper justice for their crimes. Yes, it's a very romanticized depiction, especially for the likes of today, but this is the kind of stuff I love to watch, and the OVA tells this story in such a magnificent fashion that truly adheres to the style of manga that was common back when Shinji Wada originally wrote it.
At the same time, though, this OVA would likely shock people with how violent & harsh it can be, especially when you consider that the original manga ran in the same place where series like Glass Mask, Angel Sanctuary, Here is Greenwood, Skip Beat!, & Fruits Basket ran or are still running to this day. While it's certainly not on the level of "hyper-violence", Sukeban Deka shows no hesitation in doling out pools of blood, sexual assault, forced drug use, mass deaths (need I remind you of the bus "accident"?), and even a mind-controlled suicide at one point. While modern-day shojo is by no means afraid of entering into this territory when need be, there can still be a stark difference between old-school shojo, especially from the 70s & even 80s, & modern-day shojo from the 90s-on, and this OVA is a great example of that. The shojo style is still more or less the primary force here, mainly due to the attention towards character drama & relationships driving the plot forward, but there's also a fair share of action sequences that are just extremely well done, and can easily rival some fights done in anime based on shonen manga of the time.
|You know, for girls!|
It also helps that the animation in this OVA is simply outstanding. As small a name as Takeshi Hirota & Sido Limited are, there's no doubt that time, money, & effort were all put towards this production, with tons of super smooth & elegantly animated sequences. This is especially true for the action scenes, which move with a fluidity that still holds up well to this day. While Hirota is credited as "Chief Director", as well as writer & producer, the "traditional" director position in this OVA goes to animation director Hitoshi Nanba, who really shows his ability to mix together shojo storytelling with a bit of a "manly" aesthetic when needed; it's no surprise he was eventually chosen to direct anime like the 2001 Grappler Baki TV series (first season only) & Golden Kamuy. It's an OVA like this that proves how animation is more about the talent involved than the budget it's given to work with, though I wouldn't be surprised if there was a more-than-decent amount of money given to it. Without a doubt, this is something I'd love to see an HD remaster for, because then the animation would be able to shine even better, and it definitely shouldn't be left forgotten, visually.
As for the music, I'm guessing the idea was to also bring in a smaller name talent, as here we was Takashi Takaomi, who is next to a complete mystery to find info on. Going off of what looks to be his website, he lists having done music for products like The Weathering Continent (but not the anime movie), porn productions like Cream Lemon: Tenshi no Tsubasa/Angel's Wing & Cinderella Express, & even a movie titled Super Mario no Daibouken: Peach-hime wo Sukue!/Super Mario's Big Adventure: Rescue Princess Peach!; yes, this guy apparently did music for a Nintendo production, but not the Mario anime you may (or may not) have heard of. Regardless, Takaomi's music for Sukeban Deka is okay, but nothing memorable; it works for the moments their used in, but leaves no lasting impression. If anything, the sound design itself is more memorable, especially some of the audio cues, so credit goes to that team. Honestly, the only highlight of the score would be the ending theme, "Kizuna" by Yoshinori Shabana, which was composed & arranged by Takaomi & written by Hirota. Following the old-school aesthetic, it sounds like a song that would have been made during the 70s or 80s, and matches the badass feelings Saki can evoke, and I'd love to hear the full version one day.
Luckily, the Japanese cast is extremely strong, though there is one bit of interesting, if odd, casting. Apparently, Shinji Wada was a big fan of the City Hunter anime, specifically the voices of Kaori Makimura & Ryo Saeba, so Kazue Ikura & Akira Kamiya were cast here as Saki & Jin, respectively. While Ikura delivers a simply outstanding & perfectly emotional performance as Saki, it honestly is odd to purposefully bring in Kamiya to voice Jin, because the character is absolutely nothing like Ryo, and rarely appears until the end, so Kamiya delivers a much more subdued & serious performance for this OVA; only at the end does he really start sounding like he's known for. In fact, I seriously thought Kamiya was voicing Sanpei, because that character is very much like Ryo, but the voice sounded off until I saw the cast list during the credits, which is when I realized that I was originally wrong. The actual seiyuu for Sanpei, Hiroshi Takemura (Touma Hashiba in Smaurai Troopers, Joe in Crusher Joe), does a great job with the character, delivering an energetic & enthusiastic performance that's very quickly likable. Oddly enough, Junko's seiyuu, Naomi Uchiyama, is literally impossible to find any info on, even in Japanese, with this being her sole acting role in general, apparently; she does a fine job with the character, if nothing else. The Mizuchis are voiced by Masako Katsuki (Remi), Urara Takano (Mayumi), & Saeko Shimazu (Emi), and they play perfectly over-the-top young, evil women, with my favorite being Takano, who delivers a perfect sukeban. Finally, there are Akio Ohtsuka, Tomomichi Nishimura, & the late Kenji Utsumi playing Mr. Numa, Gozo Mizuchi, & Kurayami, respectively, and they're all appropriately gruff & hardened-sounding men. Overall, it's a great job form the Japanese cast, perfectly matching the style the story goes for.
ADV Films originally licensed & released Sukeban Deka on VHS & LD back in 1996, but in 2003 re-released the OVA on a single dual-audio DVD. While a Japanese DVD had been out since 2000, ADV's looks to be based on the LD master, as there are "burned-in" subtitles for signs & song lyrics; to be fair, though, the video still looks rather good. Anyway, ADV also dubbed the OVA back in the 90s, so it's an old one directed by co-founder (& current head of Maiden Japan) Matt Greenfield. Leading everyone is Amanda Winn Lee (Yukiko Amagi in Persona 4) as Saki, and from the very start she absolutely commands the character, delivering a performance pretty much on par with Kazue Ikura. Tiffany Grant, ADV's first actor, performs Junko excellently, and she pairs up with Winn Lee perfectly; it's no surprise that those two are still acting to this day. Sanpei is voiced by Kurt Stoll (Kensuke Aida in Neon Genesis Evangelion TV), who sounds like he's holding back his voice in an awkward fashion to sound like the hapless nerd he can be, but the end result sound just a bit too awkward in execution. As for the Mizuchis, Marcy Rae (Remi), Traci Shannon (Ayumi), Renee Foresman (Emi), & Rob Mungle (Gozo) all deliver fittingly evil performances, but they don't sound quite as vile as they should sound. Maybe it's just me, but I think they could have been made to sound even more villainous. Finally, Jun is voiced by Aaron Krohn (Ryoji Kaji in Evangelion TV), who fits the mysterious vibe of the character well,while Numa & Kurayami are performed by Richard & Robert Peeples, respectively, and they're both decent enough; at least they are trying.
Being an early anime dub of the 90s, though, there are some awkward pronunciations, like "Skeban Deka" or "Eemee", but it's something that can't be helped at this point; dubs back then, even the good ones, weren't exactly handling Japanese words all that well. In fact, one of the most awkward moments is a scene where Ayumi has to speak English, & Traci Shannon enunciates almost exactly like Urara Takano does, even though she didn't have to in any way. While most of the major cast didn't really stick with anime voice work for long, and it does show its age in some regards, Sukeban Deka is probably one of the better early ADV dubs, and overall is still a good way to watch the OVA.
Sukeban Deka was a series that I have had a passing familiarity with for the longest time, but had never really given a shot. The Yo-Yo Girl Cop movie was very enjoyable, but while it did prompt me to get the other two live-action movies, it still didn't exactly make me want to hunt down the anime adaptation. Therefore, I am more than happy that my Anime Secret Santa recommended this OVA, because this was just an outstanding story that I am glad I stopped passing by. I just love heavily dramatic & romanticized anime like this, and Sukeban Deka scratched that itch absolutely perfectly. The characters are striking, the story is handled excellently, the animation is outstanding, & the overall package is just beyond what you'd expect from such a no-name studio & a director who only rarely works on anime. Unfortunately, it hasn't been re-released in Japan since the DVD in 2000, but this is definitely an OVA that deserves a good HD remaster, & re-release in general.