Shonan Bakusozoku Anime Review
Explosive Biker Gang of Shonan
US Release By
What's In It
- Motorcycle chases and races
- Cool masks, shades, helmets, and biker-gang standards
- Some really wacky hairstyles
- Japanese culture/humor
- Puppy love/romantic hints
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 0 (none)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 2 (moderate)
There are some cases in life in which all typical theories of entropy should just be thrown out the window. For example, meet Eguchi Yoosuke; not only is he the second-generation leader of the infamous biker gang Sho-Baku, he also has a penchant for embroidery as president of his high school's arts and crafts club. Despite his unusual combination of hobbies, Eguchi and Sho-Baku have gained notoriety through their dedication to motorcycle racing and laying waste to all those they find dishonorable. Unfortunately, such notoriety also brings enemies; Gonda Nimousaku of rival gang Hell's Legion is about to unleash a plan that could destroy Eguchi--and Sho-Baku--by pitting them against a group of veteran bikers, the Hustle Jets.
A classic (and highly underrated to boot) example of mid-80s Anime, Shonan Bakusozoku is, as far as I know, the only English-translated film of the "Shoonan Bakusozoku" biker-genre series in Japan, as well as the only one I've seen. AnimEigo even dubs this as an "experimental release;" although it's somewhat disappointing that this series didn't warrant any further attention, this seems to be the first film in the series, since it provides a fair amount of precursory information as well as character history.
As shallow and restricted as an Anime about the exploits of a Japanese high school biker game may sound, this is actually one of the most original animated stories that I've ever come across. That may be due to the plot and the story itself--rather than being a comedy about some psycho Japanese riders, or an action flick depicting violent gang battles in the Japanese biker underground, Shonan Bakusozoku is a decidedly strange blend of humor and seriousness which perfectly complements Eguchi's duality. In fact, the premise of the film seems to be aimed at dispelling the stereotypical mindless machismo associated with bikers in lieu of a slightly moral-tinged message. However, that's not to say that Eguchi and the members of Sho-Baku aren't tough or aren't violent, as they certainly are, and the moral messages I'm talking about are not in the form of 10 minute soliloquies. The underlying theme is just more one of "Live fast, fight for honor" nature than "We're big, tough bikers, let's beat up some innocent people." Shonan Bakusozoku glorifies hedonism, not violence; it just so happens that Eguchi derives pleasure from motorcycle racing and splitting the lips of the dishonorable.
All of that said, Shonan Bakusozoku flows exceptionally well--most aspects of the story are depicted realistically and are able to convey the general atmosphere of rivalry and honor that Shonan's infrastructure is built upon. Though this movie is hardly conventional, quite a few uncommon factors have been thrown into the mix, and are integrated brilliantly. Although it is indisputable that the movie's focus remains on biker rivalry, there are some decidedly lighthearted scenes revolving around Eguchi's crafting hobby that dissipate any chances of monotony.
The actual humor present in Shonan is low-key and involves some particularly cryptic Japanese puns and semantics-based jokes, as well as a sprinkling of limited SD scenes. A word of caution--unless you're fluent in Japanese with some familiarity of semantics and phrasing (I'm certainly not), just about every joke and bit of dialogue-based humor present will go over your head. AnimeEigo rectifies this for English audiences with one of their informative photocopied inserts; while I'm sure enjoyably watching Shonan without one is possible, a few snippets of dialogue will probably seem awkward and pointless. That being said, nothing presented in Shonan is side-splittingly funny; the humor is more of a subtle, quirky nature that adds to the atmosphere of the film more than anything else.
The characters that accompany this atmosphere are also very well done. Although the action centers around a reasonably large group of people, the characters are kept quite distinct through various nuances and personality traits. While it's true that most of the characters have a common bond (as students or as bikers), they aren't all imparted with boring, generic characteristics.
The animation itself in Shonan Bakusozoku is old-school Toei--very distinct and rounded, with very few angular elements (if any) in character design. Of course, one must not forget the obligatory wacky hairstyles; Akira and Eguchi have hairdos that resemble frozen dairy desserts (although not necessarily edible-looking), and most of the other bikers have various styles of mohawks, afros, or closely-shaved cuts. The older look and feel of the animation doesn't really hurt the movie, it just lends it a certain campiness that fits in well considering all the other little quirks present. All of the animation, including the backgrounds, is relatively clean and well done, but it just looks old. There's nothing that's particularly horrid or phenomenal, it's just old. The animated illusion of high speed racing is pulled off very well, however, almost to the point of inducing motion sickness; I especially enjoyed the opening sequence where the viewer's point of view is situated as if looking down from the moving motorcycle.
I have very little to comment about regarding the Japanese voice cast, since the acting is very well done. None of the bikers really sounded overly tough or macho, which is important, since most of them are high schoolers. Eguchi's voice was extremely good, as it shifts from a firm normal tone to more of an angrily charismatic one. The voices all remain distinct and retain character without getting too silly or awkward, which is a definite plus. I don't have much to say about the subtitling, either. AnimeEigo uses their normal multiple-tone subtitling here, with different colors for dialogue, sign/writing translations/notes, and song lyrics. Although it would have been a bit cumbersome to do on screen, I would have liked to see them try to briefly explain a few of the culturally-oriented Japanese jokes in the subtitles; in my opinion, it would have been easier to read them onscreen then try to glance at the photocopied pamphlet while the movie was running.
The songs used in Shonan are complimentary to the Anime and quite catchy. There's a somewhat generic love song about halfway through that sounds fairly decent, but the real gems are the final song and the ending theme. The former is a nicely executed hard rock piece, while the latter sounds like an attempt to mimic old style rock'n'roll, complete with crooning vocals courtesy of the voice actor who played Eguchi! Perhaps it's a bit unusual compared to the normal J-pop, but for me, it was a refreshing release and worked well.
Overall, it's quite hard to assign a love/hate tag to the movie, even based on audience, since it's so unique and contains so many integrated elements. Unless you are an absolute stickler for nonstop blood n' guts action, I would recommend giving Shonan's 50-some minutes a try; even if you don't like it, it's a highly original story that provides a unique experience. This Anime conveys its message fairly well, even to those totally uninterested in the Japanese biker gang subculture. Thus, I would suggest that if you ever come across Shonan Bakusozoku, give it a try. I wouldn't go so far as to say that not seeing it would be missing a flawless Anime or something of paramount importance; however, it is a fun and unique brand of Anime that can be easily enjoyed.
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
Notes and Trivia
There were, apparently, ten OAVs made in this series over a period of as many years, although only the original one (the first of the series) on which this review is based has been released in English as of this writing.
Note that AnimEigo's subtitle ("Bomber Bikers of Shonan") is a fairly accurate translation of the title; "bousozoku" means "motorcycle gang," but in this case the first character of the word is written with the kanji "baku," which is used in bomb- and explosion-related words. Shonan is an area near Tokyo, so if you put all that together you get something very close to "Bomber Bikers of Shonan." AnimEigo, as always, has their extensive liner notes for Shonan Bakusozoku on their website for those interested.
Very unique by anime standards. A bit like Venus Wars, the early portions of Akira, and Wild 7 Biker Nights, but that's only due to the motorcycles. Probably closest in style to American live action motorcycle gang movies like "Easy Rider" than anything else, but still not exactly the same.
US DVD Review
No DVDs of this title have been released.
Probably falls into the 13-up category.
Violence: 2 - No death or real gore, but some particularly bloody fistfights.
Nudity: 0 - Nada.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Some high school puppy love, and a pants-wetting scene with humorous intent.
Language: 2 - A couple pepperings of semi-heavy profanity.