Dominion Anime Review
US Release By
Futuristic Police Comedy
4 40-minute episodes
1988-05-27 - 1989-08-11
What's In It
- Police Brutality
- Wanton Civic Damage
- Organic Cities
- Tanks Big and Small
- Musical Interludes
- Crazy Tank Chases
- Funny Dark Future
- Phallic Antitank Weapons
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 2 (moderate)
- Sex: 1 (mild)
- Language: 2 (moderate)
In the not-so-distant future, Newport City is the pinnacle of modernity: The air is perpetually polluted by an ever-present bacterial cloud, the citizens are forced to wear gas masks in the street, and crime is so out of control that the police formed a special division to deal with it: the Tank Police. These are the best, the brightest, the most sadistic, of the city's police force. Okay, so they're feared by the general populace, they usually cause more destruction than they prevent, and they care more about their tanks than catching criminals, but they do perform a mean interrogation (pun intended). These guys are NYPD Blue, the LAPD, and Rambo all rolled into one.
Our story follows the newest member of the tank police, Leona Ozaki, and her adventures in getting used to the Tank Police's rather unorthodox crime control methods, falling in love (with her mini-tank Bonaparte), and battling the notorious criminal Buaku and his beautiful-as-they-are-deadly henchwomen, the cat sisters Annapuna and Unipuma
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Dominion is an anime classic with a little bit of everything: lovable characters (from the tank-crazed Britain to everyguy Al to innocent-yet-psychotic Leona), fun action in abundance (even a couple Scooby Doo-style musical interludes), silly humor in all the right places, and (true to Shirow form) a really convoluted plot. The philosophy may get a bit heavy in the second of the two story arcs, but even then the unexpected time spent on an outwardly superficial villain is an interesting change of pace. Throw in a creative world, high quality animation that holds up well to the test of time, and a funky soundtrack for good measure (in the sub only--the re-recorded songs and weak acting make the dub a poor choice on this one).
If you're a fan of Shirow's manga, you definitely shouldn't miss Dominion--it's one of the most faithful anime adaptations of his manga work--and anybody who enjoys a light comedy with a bit of a sadistic streak and a dose of convoluted plot and philosophy should give it a look.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Dominion is an anime classic with a little bit of everything: lovable characters, fun action in abundance, silly humor with an ornery edge in all the right places, and (true to Shirow form) a really convoluted plot laced with philosophy.
Of the half-dozen or so animated incarnations of Masamune Shirow's work in existence as of this writing, Dominion is probably the most true to the manga original (one of his earliest). Not to say that Dominion is the best of the lot, but it captures his comedy-sprinkled drama and the feel of the manga version (which it is effectively a prequel to) very well. Most of the other animated adaptations diverge widely, at least in mood, from the manga they're based on, regardless of critical acclaim and huge budgets.
It's also worth noting that Dominion is the most humorous of Shirow's comics, and definitely the funniest of those that have been animated, although the heavy philosophy that marks his other works does creep in.
There are two story arcs in this series, of somewhat differing mood. The first, though it has a few introspective moments, is basically high comedy: There are tank chases, cheerfully sadistic (if a bit unsettling, particularly in light of more recent events) interrogation scenes, and a generally high-spirited mood. The second story arc is no slouch on fun or humor, either, but it delves more deeply than you'd expect into the backstory of a seemingly superficial bad guy. This unexpected philosophical twist will no doubt put off some people who came looking for empty comedy, but it does match Shirow's knack for blending comedy and complex storylines together. About the only thing that bothered me was the very ambiguous ending (heck, the whole story is pretty obtuse), but even that somehow seems to fit, and of course you can read the manga to see what happens next.
As with any good anime tale, the thing that really makes Dominion a keeper is the characters. Although it's a comedy series, the cast has plenty of personality, and in a couple of cases, more depth than you'd think (how many comedies spend a significant portion of their running time looking at the traumatic past of the villain?). That unusual focus on the villains as more than just antagonists--they're more central than any of the secondary Tank Police members--is a distinguishing point carried over from the manga.
Other characters, of course, are just silly caricatures, but you've gotta love them anyway--who can resist the tank-loving Captain Brenten or lovable anime-everyguy Al. Al, in fact, deserves an honorable mention in the "poor guy fighting for the heart of the girl who doesn't seem to notice him" category; this guy isn't up against the girl's dream hunk, her family, or even her job--he's got a miniature patrol tank to compete with. Unsuccessfully at that--the ongoing refusal to let human romance ruin the tank-love is a high point.
The protagonist, Leona, is a scene-stealer--cute and seemingly innocent at the start, yet cheerfully and willingly committed to the Tank Police and its psychotic way of getting things done. She's got enough humanity and personality to keep her above caricature status, which of course makes it all the more fun watching her tank-devotion drive her to out-psycho the rest of the psycho squad.
Artistically, Dominion is an older series, but despite showing some of its age still holds up very well. Its biggest strength is, again, the characters--memorable character designs, expressive faces, some hilarious physical comedy, and all-around good character animation. The only flaw is a few bits of inconsistent character art (almost entirely on the Cat Sisters).
Also noteworthy is the world itself, both for its originality and faithfulness to Shirow's original story. Rather than generic futuristic skyscrapers, Newport City is covered with oddly organic-looking structures, and even the tanks (most are made of bio-plastic) have a rather alien look to them. Despite this, the world still seems like a place where real people live, and the city streets always have an abundance of pedestrian traffic and extraneous action (car accidents, people getting run over by tanks...).
The animation, though shy of perfect and perhaps a bit heavy on slapstick and cartoony flavor, is quite good by any standard, even more so when you consider its age. The fast-paced chase scenes stand out as the best of the action, though several musical interludes catch the eye as well--the funked-up intro animation, a striptease by the cat sisters, and a couple of Scooby Doo-style tank chases set to music.
Speaking of which, the musical score features a funky (and very amusing) mix of light '80s J-rock, playful little interjections, and old-fashioned Japanese themes.
USM's old-school English dub doesn't fare so well; all of the music was re-recorded for the dub (with entirely different tunes), and the quality is noticeably lower--weaker and more repetitive than the original. On the same note, the acting in the dub isn't particularly good, either, although the humor does survive the translation process relatively well.
The Japanese acting, on the other hand, is hilarious--some great offhanded humor, lots of distinctive voices, and a few standout performances. Hiromi Tsuru is perfect as Leona--cute and lively, with just the right amount of psychotic edge. Yuusaku Yara is spot-on as Brenten, as are Michie Tomizawa and Yuko Mita as the cat sisters (points for not using the same voice actress even though they're twins), and many of the minor Tank Police members are almost as much fun. The only weak point is Buaku; while the unmistakable Jouji Yanami gives him a distinctive, gravely voice that fits his look, the comparatively quiet delivery of his lines doesn't really match either the general mood of the series or the apparent amount of screaming being animated--the lack of really over-the-top yelling in particular was disappointing. On the bright side, his acting is fine, some of his more offhanded humor comes across quite well, and his style works better in the quieter moments in the second story arc.
In all, Dominion is well worth your time if you enjoy light, wacky, occasionally sadistic comedy mixed with a stiff dose of convoluted plot and philosophy. The second half of the story is a bit slower and more philosophical than the first, so come prepared, but it's good fun all the way through. If you're a fan of Shirow's manga work, you definitely shouldn't miss Dominion, and it should be worth adding to your collection.
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If you enjoyed the manga series, have a look at this, but be warned that the plot is a lot different, as it is effectively a prequel. You might also want to have a look at Shirow's other stories--Appleseed, Black Magic M-66, and Ghost in the Shell--but keep in mind that all of those are more serious, and the anime adaptations are even more serious than the manga originals.
Notes and Trivia
Based on the first of two short Dominion manga series by Masamune Shirow; the anime is more or less a prequel to the story of the original manga. He drew the second manga outing, Dominion: Conflict, a decade after the first, so it had a lot of changes in the art and a somewhat different story.
There is a newer 1994-vintage sequel to this series, New Dominion Tank Police, available from Manga Video, which, similar to this series, is a sort-of-prequel to Dominion: Conflict. There's also a 2006 one-shot CG short, TANK S.W.A.T. 01, which is effectively a side-story of Dominion: Conflict; it hasn't been released officially in English as of this writing.
As for this original Dominion adaptation, it was Central Park Media's first anime release under their US Manga Corps label. It was also one of their earlier DVD releases. The dubbed version is slightly edited to all but remove the break between the two episodes in each story arc; the opening and end themes only play once on each of the two tapes. There was also an edited version that was shown on the Sci-Fi channel in its early experiments with anime; the main cuts were the striptease and as much as possible of the phallic anti-tank mines.
The series has a few interesting tweaks on the dark(-ish) future of Japan; even in the original dialogue they explicitly refer to dollars on several occasions, and when Leona gives her full name she does it Western-style, with family name last. Also, while there's no mention in the series proper where Newport City is, the later spin-off/sequel places it in Hyogo prefecture, in the region of Osaka.
As a final tie-in, while the two don't really fit together in any way, the Ghost in the Shell manga has a cameo by the Cat Sisters, as well as a few bits of technology borrowed from Dominion. If you were so inclined, you could interpret this to mean that they take place in the same world.
US DVD Review
US Manga Corps' original DVD release was a decent production, including Japanese and English stereo soundtracks and an English subtitle track (which is identical to the old VHS sub). Extras consist of character intros (some appropriate clips from the series), and some comments by the director (not Shirow).
The video doesn't look bad, although there is a fair amount of color fringing on the first two acts, while the other half of the series (which look significantly different in terms of the video transfer) is cleaner, but noticeably softer-looking.
A bigger issue is that the disc uses the format of the dubbed version, which had the four acts in the series separated into two parts, each with its own credits (although the previews are included between the two acts in each part). Those credits are the same as the old dub--the animation that originally appeared underneath the Japanese credits is shoved into a tiny box above the scrolling English credits, and even the Japanese soundtrack has the English end theme. It's bad enough having the fun ending animation shrunk down to near-invisibility (would it have been so difficult to throw in the original credits as an extra?), but not including the original song was totally unnecessary, and just made me mad.
In later years USM took the subtitled half of their DVDs much more seriously, but I don't know if their 2003 re-release fixed these issues.
An aside, both DVD releases feature Annapuna and Unipuma on the cover; the older one has a Shirow painting of them from around the same vintage as the original Dominion manga, while the newer release has a much more recent Shirow painting, circa the Dominion: Conflict manga era and the duo's somewhat refined (and beefier) look.
Another random DVD aside, the series was released on DVD by Manga Video in the UK, and the full DVD version was included with the January 2002 issue of the PlayStation-focused magazine PlayNation (the magazine included a few Manga DVDs as bonuses, in part because of the PS2's early role as one of the first widely-owned DVD players). This special PlayNation edition, amusingly, included a quote from AAW on its cover.
13-up seems about right, but some parents might find any of a number of scenes objectionable, so 16-up isn't unreasonable; has a tame striptease, a couple of "torture" scenes (perpetrated by the good guys) that are played for laughs but could be considered objectionable, and some blatant phallic imagery in the second act.
Violence: 2 - A lot of violence, but it's pretty silly stuff for the most part.
Nudity: 2 - A few scenes, but they're brief and undetailed--even the striptease has no actual nudity.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - The above-mentioned dance, and a cute sort-of-romance.
Language: 2 - A few expletives here and there.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Leona Ozaki: Hiromi Tsuru
Al: Masaaki Okura
Britian: Yusaku Yara
Buaku: Joji Yanami
Annapuna: Yuko Mita
Unipuma: Michie Tomizawa
The Chief: Ichiro Nagai
Megane (Specs): Shigeru Chiba
Mohican: Koji Totani
Father (Chaplin): Tatsuyuki Ishimori
The Mayor: Mari Yoko
Doctor: Isamu Tanonaka
The Councillor: Hideyoshi Shibata
Doctor: Isamu Tanonaka
Skelton: Banjo Ginga
Red Commando: Hirohiko Kakegawa
Dr. Shahah: Dalsuke Gozato
Maraya: Tomoko Maruyama
Skelton: Banjo Ginga
Red Commando: Hirohiko Kakegawa
Dr. Shahah: Dalsuke Gozato
Maraya: Tomoko Maruyama
Beautiful Woman: Masami Kamiyama
Story: Masamune Shirow
Art Director: Mitsuharu Miyamae (Acts I and II), Osamu Honda (Acts III and IV)
Director: Kouichi Mashimo (Acts I and II), Takahki Ishiyama (Acts III and IV)
Music: D. Crew.
Formerly available in North America from the late US Manga Corps on bilingual DVD. There was also an earlier DVD release, and prior to that it was available on four subtitled VHS tapes (their first release), 2 dubbed VHS tapes, and a subtitled LD set.