More noise than signal

The Guyver, Series One

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

One of the downfalls of episodic anime with an action bent is that once the fight scenes are taken care of there’s precious little time left for any meaningful character development. Meet The Guyver. A classic anime, if by ‘classic’ you mean ‘one of the earliest to get dubbed and released onto an unsuspecting Western world’. A weapon of unknown origin and terrible power is uncovered by the Chronos organisation, who manage the difficult task of being the most powerful corporation in the world while remaining completely anonymous to the general public. Fair play to them.

Sadly for their evil aspirations they loose control of these Bio-Booster Armours after a rebellious worker makes a break for freedom with the box of these McGuffins, stashing them in some woodlands near a school before the Chronos security guards arrive to ‘pacify’ the meddlesome miscreant. While he’s getting boxed around the ears for being a cheeky boy, mild mannered high school student Sho Fukamachi (Tom Fahn / Takeshi Kusao, depending on what soundtrack you plump for) stumbles upon the ‘control metal’ for the Bio Booster Armor and somehow activates it, turning him into The Guyver. The suit handily exists in another dimension until called upon in times of need, at which point Sho can count on his suit to provide him with enhanced speed, strength, agility, a really big laser and a fetching shade of green.

The weaponry comes in handy, as Chronos aren’t best pleased about the loss of their precious weapons and send their security forces searching for them. No doughnut munching flat foots though, these guys are so evil they transform into monsters. Seems that Chronos has been investing in some bioweapon research creating a range of horrific Zoaniods, bigger, stronger, faster, nastier, a hybrid of various creatures and your worst nightmares. As befits the status of such a mighty organisation it’s not long before Chronos work out that it’s little ol’ Sho is in possession of their toy and take steps to retrieve it.

Their favourite plan is to kidnap one or more of the following; Sho’s best mate Tetsuro Segawa (Víctor García / Kôzô Shioya), his would be love interest and Tetsuro’s sister Mizuki (Melissa Charles / Yûko Mizutani) or Sho’s father. In fact, that’s pretty much the limit of their evil scheming. Kidnap these guys, allow Sho a moment of guilt for getting his loved ones into danger, wait for him to show up to rescue them then throw whatever the latest revision of Zoanoid technology is in the hope of defeating him. This template is repeated throughout the series, which is something of a pity as in there is some character and storyline development just busting to get out. A mysterious other Guyver lurks about, occasionally helping Sho, there’s a change in management in Chronos Japan after a continued failure to apprehend Sho putting the shallowly evil Commander Gyuo in charge, and where does Sho’s classmate Agito, adopted son of the depose Chronos boss fit into the story?

Even with the series emphasis on fighting there ought to ample time to develop these themes, but the first season’s six episodes have to rush through these points to their detriment. I figure it’s due to a lack of cash to get the animation on the screen – each episode is bookended by lengthy opening and closing credits, the ubiquitous waste of time that is a trailer for the next episode and a completely pointless ‘Zoaniod data file’ segment that gives extra information on the creatures seen in the series, in case you really wanted to know what Zerbebuth’s serial number was. Oh yeah, there’s a parallel branch of Chronos researching the silliest names for their creatures that have met with great success.

All of these are cheap ways to bulk out the episodes which is necessary for something that was intended as a reasonably cheap way to fill up some scheduling time for the networks, but are now a hindrance to their enjoyment for modern audiences. If enough cash is thrown at made for telly anime (or any other genre, come to think of it) it’s possible to create a gripping story that’s equally nifty when released on shiny discs later, (I’m thinking mainly of Escaflowne or the completely stunning Neon Genesis Evangelion) but there’s no such feeling of a cohesive story arc or flow of events from one episode to another here. Most of the episodes follow the same formulaic approach each time, although it does take a few narrative risks towards the series finale that pay dividends.

This makes watching the series as a block something of a chore, which obviously wasn’t a consideration if you had to wait a week to see the next instalment. Still, each individual episode holds up quite well in a shallow way so it’s a useful disc to have if you find yourself with a spare half hour or so a few days a week that are otherwise wasted in front of I’m A Big Celebrity Brother Coming Dancing. Odd to recommend something that probably must be watched in a specific way to get the best from it, but there’s a few thing to like here.

Hardly unique amongst anime, but The Guyer is a series never afraid to spill some claret in the name of clean family entertainment. Arms are lost, heads are bust and a violent time is had by all. It doesn’t have the sublime animation that a bigger budget would afford it and in terms of sheer beauty is never going to rival Laputa or Spirited Away, or even approach the disposable slick violence of efforts like Blood – The Last Vampire but there’s a passable standard of animation and reasonable production standards, although it’s looking a little tired these days.

See, nostalgia is a powerful thing and as this is one of the earliest animes I’d seen I could be accused of cutting it more slack than it deserves, but truth be told I through this sucked back in the day. The dubbing was ludicrous, the action overblown and most memorably the U.K.’s Manga Video VHS release’s cover sleeve has some bizarre ideas about emphasising words like ‘the’ and ‘and’ leading to a paragraph of humorously cadenced text. Maybe now I’ve seen more of its contemporaries I can appreciate it’s place in the scheme of things more, and overblown action is rather the point of The Guyver anyway. The dubbing? Still ludicrous, but no worse than it’s contemporaries of the time.

There are, of course, far more important animes you should be watching if you’ve a passing interest in the genre, many of which you’ll find reviewed on these hallowed pages. Yet, especially if you’re revisiting T.V. anime rather than the specific feature film efforts, the more you watch the more important it becomes to see The Guyver. Rightly or wrongly, it’s the standard everything else was judged against (here in the U.K. anyway) simply because it was more or less the earliest high profile episodic to arrive here in any meaningful way. You’d certainly be better served with something like the Bubblegum Crisis sets, but The Guyver is an anime history lesson that I’d recommend to watch almost as much from a cultural viewpoint as I would recommend as a throwaway diversion.