Gundress Anime Review
US Release By
What's In It
- Let's blow up half the city for cover!
- Wetware and Net-diving
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 3 (significant)
- Sex: 1 (mild)
- Language: 2 (moderate)
The time: 2100 AD. The place: Bayside City, a bustling metropolis that has recently become the scene of a great deal of terrorist activity and arms smuggling. The players: 6 women with a variety of pasts who now work as the team Angel Arms--a freelance anti-terrorist team for hire, formed to take care of the jobs too dirty for the police to handle. But when a ghost from one woman's past appears in town with some friends and some powerful military hardware, and the Angel Arms are hired by the cops to stop him from killing a captured arms dealer with extremely important information, it's not going to be just another mission.
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"Masamune Shirow's Gundress", as AnimeWorks is plugging it, is not; although he had some input on the look and feel of the characters and mecha, the production crew did almost nothing to capitalize on the potential of the characters and concepts. The result is the characters from Bubblegum Crisis in Appleseed Landmates, stuck in a cheesy Hollywood action movie--severely derivative, uncreative, thoroughly unintelligent, and uniformly mediocre. Although it's not bad by action movie standards, and it at least managed to keep me paying attention, it never does anything to distinguish itself as good, either. Even the visuals, which could have been the movie's saving grace, are remarkably poor--it looks like a mid-budget OAV from the '80s despite being made at the end of the '90s.
Gundress isn't bad enough to be a particularly good target for heckling, and if you're a big fan of old-fashioned action movies, you might well enjoy it--there are certainly plenty of attractive girls in big mechs. Most people, though, will be better off spending their time or money elsewhere.
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Gundress isn't really a bad movie. It's just so severely derivative, uncreative, thoroughly unintelligent, uniformly mediocre, and generally poorly made that there's very little good about it either. From Standard Action Movie Plot #4, to a set of characters that were ripped more or less straight from Bubblegum Crisis and given Landmates from Appleseed, to several giant plot holes (or monumentally stupid moves by the characters, depending on how you look at it), there is so little in Gundress of any substance or quality that it just isn't very interesting.
AnimeWorks may be plugging it as "Masamune Shirow's Gundress," but it's not--do not buy it because it has his name on it. He's listed in the (English) credits as a "Character Designer," which isn't exactly accurate, although he did hand somebody a few sketches and some character ideas at some point (plus threw in mecha straight from Appleseed). Don't get your hopes up--despite the occasional Shirow influence, Gundress is a movie-length attempt to fuse Bubblegum Crisis and a cheesy American action movie, with more or less the results you'd expect.
Oh, and by the way, if you're thinking "Black Magic M-66 was a cheesy action movie by Shirow, and it was still kinda cool," Gundress isn't nearly that well made, or that creative. There are, admittedly, some nice little touches with the technology (particularly the Appleseed-inspired mechs--things like the double arms), and there is definite potential in the basic character ideas. These are the sort of things that make Shirow's worlds so interesting, but they are handled poorly by the production team and rarely capitalized on.
Putting my bitterness about its ineffective Shirowness aside, I will give Gundress a tiny bit of credit. If you put it up against your average B-grade action movie (anime or Hollywood, though it feels more like the latter), it's not that bad, and the cheese-heavy backstory of the one character who actually has any holds its own. The pacing, though not all that smooth and occasionally not quite making sense, is at least passably steady, and there is a sufficient volume of action. The characters may be completely unoriginal, but they have at least enough personality to keep you paying attention, and most are older and have a slightly harder edge than your average 16-year-old commando-for-hire. The particularly cold main character, Alissa, also cuts down on the sappy teamwork morals that I've come to expect, which was welcome.
Gundress is an action movie, though, and that's not a good thing considering the quality of the visuals. The movie starts out with an attractive shot of the moon reflected in water, slowly being distorted by the wash from an approaching helicopter. Everything after those 10 seconds is downhill. The animation is passable for an '80s-era production, but since the movie was made in 1999 that's not saying much--it lacks any style at all and is surprisingly crude in a few spots. The locations, though a couple have imaginative potential, are drawn blandly. At least the mecha and character art is decent. The varied mechanical and character designs (mostly among the attractive women) are the one bright point, not surprising given Shirow's input and that they look something like his style.
The background music, though orchestral, is traditional movie score fare and rather bland, although the harder-edged J-pop end theme isn't too bad.
Even the Japanese voice acting, though not at all bad, is lackluster. The chilly heroine is solid enough, and the rest of the team at least sounds distinctive, but there's no one worthy of singling out and most of the other characters are unremarkable. My biggest complaint, though, is that the acting lacks force, which is more or less the problem with everything else about the movie, too. The English dub isn't bad, although some of the minor characters are painfully cheesy. I did like the deep-voiced take on the villain, although that voice didn't quite go with his look.
The bottom line is, unless you're a big fan of old-fashioned mech-mercenary action movies, there's very little to make Gundress worth spending your time or money on. Thanks mostly to Shirow's input, there is some potential, but it isn't effectively capitalized on. I won't call it outright boring, and it's not bad enough to be funny, or even really bad within its own genre--it's just never any kind of good.
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A few other movies with a similar cyberpunk-action theme include Bubblegum Crisis (much better), Tokyo Vice (equally mediocre), Black Magic M-66 (cheesy and also by Shirow, but better), and Shirow's Appleseed, which in addition to a similar terrorist-centered theme and very similar mecha was also a poor attempt to animate Shirow's ideas. The later CGI Appleseed movies are a little more similar in their Hollywood-action style, and drastically higher budget.
Notes and Trivia
This movie was apparently preceded by a manga series (not by Shirow) and some radio dramas (radio drama of a mecha-action story... interesting). There are some implications that this takes place at an earlier time in the world of Appleseed, though there are no tie-ins other than the similar mecha.
The DVD includes a making-of video, in which you get to see the creative staff talk about a mediocre action movie as if it was actually going to be anything other than cheesy. It's very worth watching, though, just because you get to see some of Shirow's original versions of the characters, which are much nicer than those in the finished product. On second thought, the disappointment of finding out that his ideas didn't amount to anything might make it too depressing.
Random reference note: The comment about a "Roller" operation in "Bayside City" is no doubt a nod to the '70s pop band The Bay City Rollers; they were quite popular in Japan in their heyday.
US DVD Review
The DVD is simple and solid. The video is letterboxed rather than anamorphic (if you don't know what that means it might not matter to you, but if you have a widescreen TV it's bad), though it's a clean enough transfer. The audio isn't bad either, though it didn't seem to make good use of strong bass sounds (that might not be the DVD's fault). There is a chapter index, and full credits are included in both languages (the originals intact), with full bilingual voice credits as well. The only extra feature is the long "making of" video mentioned in the notes, which was originally a promotion for the movie.
Rated 16-up by AnimeWorks on account of some not-so-graphic violence and a fair amount of nudity.
Violence: 2 - Quite a few people die, but it's surprisingly bloodless.
Nudity: 3 - One character spends quite a while naked, but it's mostly undetailed and not particularly erotic.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Very little.
Language: 2 - Some profanity, particularly in the dub.
Staff & Cast
Note: The differences in spelling and names between dub and sub characters match the different listings in AnimeWorks' credits.
Original Japanese Cast
Alisa Takakura: Rie Ishizuka
Yung Kay: Kumiko Watanabe
Marcia Asano: Akemi Okamura
Mishel Iga: Tomoko Kawakami
Silvia Kakihana: Reiko Takagi
Takako Houraiji: Masako Katsuo
Gouman: Kintaka Arimoto
Ryo Saiki: Akira Ishida
Inspector Endo: Chikahachi Tsuji
Jean Luc Skinner: Takeo Horiuchi
Ali Jaheeve Hassan: Minoru Inaba
Sumerakizu: Yuzuru Aoyama
Mayor Won: Aruno Tahara
General Manager: Shiro Saito
Tomioka: Toshiya Ueda
Kazama: Hiroshi Naka
Serem: Kazuhiro Nakada
Even Hassan: You Nakano
Kelveros: Masakazu Suzuki
Computer: Irina Yamazaki
English Dub Cast
Alissa: Jane Alen
Hassan/Kazama: Ron Allen
Endo: G. Gordon Baer
Silvia: Janine Brown
Shiberagi/Kelvelos: Lex Lang
Ryo: Dave Leeyvelo
Jan Ruck: James Lyon
Serem/Head: Dave Mallow
Spike/Mother: David Orozco
Goman/Secretary: Michael McConnohie
Marcia: Julie Pickering
Michelle: Ellen Wilkinson
Takako: Karen Strassman
Producer: Kazumasa Fujiie, Tatsu Yoshida
Director: Katsuyoshi Yatabe
Original Story: Akira Amasawa (Orca)
Screenwriters: Orca, Kentaro Izaki, Junichi Sakai, Kazumasa Fujiie
Storyboard: Katsuyoshi Yatabe
Character Design: Tetsuro Aoki, Yuki Iwai
Character Creation: Masamune Shirow
Mechanical Design: Koji Watanabe
Mechanical Design Cooperation: Hajime Oki
Costume Design Cooperation: Tsukasa Kotobuki
General Animation Director: Taro Yamada
Animation Director: Mikio Tsuchiya, Hideo Maru, Masahiko Okumura
Art Director: Mitsuharu Miyamae
Music Producer: Akihito Aonuma
Music: Yutaka Tominaga
Theme song: Close to me - To the Uttermost End of the Earth"
Sound Producer: Satoru Nakamura
Lyrics: Taishi Kataoka
Composer: Satoshi Shimano
Arrangement: Satoru Nakamura
Performance: R-Orange, Takuma Kawana, Akiko Nakata