Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cyber City Oedo 808 - It ain't perfect, but I'll take it

When the teaser trailer to Cyberpunk 2077 came out, I was reminded of how much I love cyberpunk. I hit Wikipedia and started looking through the various examples on the page for Cyberpunk. I looked at the various examples of cyberpunk anime, and one of the titles that caught my eye was Cyber City Oedo 808. It was old enough to be "classic" cyberpunk without being so old that it looked awful. Its UK dub had a heavy metal soundtrack. And perhaps best of all, the whole series was only three 40-minute episodes long.

Before I saw the series, bluefish watched it first. He knows a lot more about cyberpunk than I do, having read just about everything by William Gibson as well as loads of Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson, and authors I've never even heard of. As he was watching the first episode, he sent me an IM saying:
OEDO just referenced "ICE: That's intrusion countermeasure electronics"
Said by a guy with a mohawk and shades
That was a good enough endorsement for me.

The rulebook to the pen-and-paper RPG Cyberpunk 2020 tells players right from the start that cyberpunk is about style over substance. Whether that's true or not, Cyber City Oedo 808 definitely took that credo to heart. Each of the characters has an outrageous look (look at those hairstyles), but a paper-thin backstory. The city is built on a huge scale, but we hardly ever see people going about their lives. Best of all, the stories jump right into the plot: the protagonists are given a mission, and off they go. Once the mission is over, the episode wraps up quickly, and then it's on to the next mission in the following episode.

The three episodes mostly stand alone, though the first episode establishes the backstory: the three main characters are all criminals serving life sentences in a space station prison, when they are offered a chance: they can work off their sentence if they enlist in a high-risk police force. They'll probably die, but since their chances of parole are so slim (all well under 1%) and their sentences so long (all over 300 years), it's a chance they're willing to take.

The three main characters are Sengoku, Gogol, and Benten. Sengoku has a huge black mullet and hardly says anything without fitting in some sort of profanity. Gogol wears a Geordi LaForge-style visor, has a red mohawk, and is a tough-guy computer hacker. Benten has a sharp fashion sense and wears lipstick and red nail polish. The three of them wear collars that let their supervisor Hasegawa communicate with them, and also blow their heads off if they step out of line.

The series was created by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who is known for Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. I am a fan of the latter but couldn't stand the former, so I am happy to report that Cyber City Oedo 808 has nothing like the non-stop violence against women found in Ninja Scroll. The animation is dated but serviceable. Something about the old-fashioned animation style feels right for a cyberpunk setting. It reminds us that the show originally aired when dialup modems were still the best way of accessing the world wide web, and heavy metal was at its peak of ridiculousness.

I watched the UK dub, which is famous for its over-the-top heavy metal soundtrack. It fit right in with the swaggering heroes, explosive action, and sparse plot. When you're watching a heavily muscled hacker square off against an oncoming cyborg, it feels right to hear wailing guitars and pounding drums. The soundtrack fits the show perfectly: it's generic, unpretentious, and enjoyable.

And hey, it's only three 40-minute episodes, so you may as well check it out.

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