Riding Bean Anime Review
US Release By
Bean Bandit, aka the Roadbuster, is the ultimate courier and getaway driver, plying his trade on the mean streets of Chicago with his crack-shot partner Rally. Bean's always on the run from the law, but when he finds himself framed for the kidnapping of a millionaire's daughter he's got both the police and a private army after him. It'll take some drastic measures just to get back to business as usual, and somebody's going to pay for the trouble.
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Riding Bean is a tribute to classic '70s-era action flicks, complete with all the trappings: Bean Bandit, the nigh-invulnerable anti-hero, plenty of fast cars (and the chases to go with them), big guns galore, and a selection of attractive women, all backed by a funked-up soundtrack. It also bears the distinction of being Kenichi Sonoda's first shot at creative control of an anime production, and the prototype of Gunsmith Cats. On the down side, Bean is more of a villain than an anti-hero, he's annoyingly invincible, the plot is functional but way over-the-top, and the whole thing lacks substance and, true to '70s form, is a bit sleazy.
If you like classic action movies you'll probably get a kick out of it. Otherwise, it never much distinguishes itself from its kin.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Riding Bean is a tribute to classic '70s-era action flicks, complete with a beefy anti-hero, fast cars, big guns, attractive women, and a funked-up soundtrack. It's fun on that count, but despite a decent pedigree, it doesn't amount to much more than a reasonably well done chunk of '80s-era anime cheese and sleaze.
Riding Bean bears the distinction of being the first piece of anime Kenichi Sonoda (character designer of Bubblegum Crisis and Gall Force) had complete control over, and was apparently quite popular for an OAV in its day (it was also one of the earliest releases of AnimEigo, reborn more recently on DVD). Its biggest claim to fame, though, is being the prototype of Sonoda's much better-known Gunsmith Cats manga and OAVs, featuring early versions of several characters.
So, for Gunsmith Cats fans: This is the only animated incarnation of Bean Bandit, as well as the original version of Rally Vincent (Carrie shares a few traits with Minnie-May as well). Bean has a somewhat lighter personality than his GSC counterpart, but is otherwise a very recognizable bulletproof brick wall. Rally, on the other hand, only shares a name and the ability to shoot well--she looks and acts completely different from her later incarnation. The two series both take place in Chicago, and there's overlap between the characters, but it's obvious that Riding Bean is more of a "rough draft" than any sort of prequel.
Comparisons out of the way, I didn't much care for Riding Bean, though it does have strong points. Foremost among them is the action: voluminous, over-the-top, and hard-hitting. It's not bad looking for its age, either, and it has a hard edge lacking in a lot of similar anime. There's also some reasonably well-done, classic-action-movie-style Chicago flavor. The story goes well with the retro theme--the action is clearly the main point, but there's an appropriate volume of scheming and double-crosses. The focus is on fun, so realism and sizable plot holes are of little concern.
Unfortunately, the characters rubbed me the wrong way, with the title character being at the top of the list. The Bean Bandit of the Gunsmith Cats comic was already a pet peeve of mine; I generally hate overconfident, overcool, overly-invincible characters of the sort, particularly when most people around them are a bit more realistic. Here, instead of just periodically showing up, showing off, and wandering away, he's the central character. He may have a tad more personality, but he's still an invincible monster (he's got a bulletproof headband). This OAV is over-the-top enough elsewhere that it probably won't bother most people, but it bugged me.
I also have a problem with the amoral nature of the whole thing; caper movies are one thing, but considering that the first job we see Bean pull is the getaway driver for a pair of crooks who graphically off at least two cops during their robbery, I had a whole lot of trouble seeing him as anything but a villain. That's a little more anti- than the sort of anti-hero I'm willing to root for.
The rest of the characters are more standard anime fare: A steam-spewing police chief to huff, scream, and ineffectively chase Bean, a suitably vicious villain, the villain's tragically loyal sidekick Carrie, and Bean's spunky sidekick Rally to smack him around in his apartment (she tazers him in lieu of an alarm clock--sweet girl).
In the end, although I enjoyed the action and a bit of the banter, I didn't like any of the characters, and it felt like it was trying a little too hard to shock (though that's more or less expected from Sonoda--he does his best to keep things edgy). It's also yet another anime depiction of America as a land of fast cars, fast women, and an anti-tank weapon in every pocket, although it's not really fair to fault it on that count, since the Dirty Harry-style movies it pays homage to aren't any better.
Visually, Riding bean stands out as much in the details as the broad picture. Although the art is done in the somewhat washed-out colors and loosely-drawn backgrounds common in '80s-era anime, the action is smoothly animated and reasonably creative. The character designs are Sonoda-standard (attractive, if repetitive for fans), with the exception of Bean Bandit's enormous and eminently recognizable chin. The attention to detail, though, is commendable--the Chi-town locales are believably drawn, and there are plenty of realistically rendered and recognizable weapons and cars (with the attendant chases to show them off).
Speaking of which, Sonoda is obviously an American hardware fan, but although the detail is fun, he goes a bit overboard here--the characters have an annoying habit of identifying exactly what it is they're shooting with or at. I'm not personally enough of a gun nut that I care to hear someone announce exactly what model of pistol they're using when it has no bearing whatsoever on the story.
The voice acting in Japanese is quite good, with several recognizable names in the cast (including the ever-popular Megumi Hayashibara as Carrie), although there aren't really any standouts. AnimEigo's English dub is decent, but not as good; the cops are even more over-the-top than the original, Bean and Rally are a little more serious, and some of the dialogue is uneven. Bean's voice (in both languages) is higher pitched than I was expecting for a guy of his stature, but fits well enough.
The soundtrack stands out a lot more; scored by David Garfield and performed by an LA-based group, the heavily funked-up soundtrack features several English songs and would be right at home in the classic '70s movies Riding Bean styles itself after. Although occasionally too mellow, it sets the retro mood and adds considerably to the flavor of the production. The quality sound effects deserve a nod as well--lots of revving big-block engines and realistic-sounding firearms.
It's worth mentioning that AnimEigo's English dub track seems to have mostly re-done sound effects, and although they fixed a few mistakes (the police sirens sound American, as they should, instead of Japanese--a rather stupid goof), the effects have much less stereo range, and noticeably less punch--Bean's car has lost most of its angry growl and the whole effects track seems somewhat soft.
Riding Bean will likely be a treat for people who are fans of both anime and old-style action movies--the action is good, the story holds up its end, and the details are all there. As for me, I liked the funk, I liked the action, but I didn't like the characters and enough little things bugged me to add up to a relatively well-done but unremarkable little one-shot.
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Gunsmith Cats has lots in common, from the funky soundtrack to the ultra-realistic hardware, and has several advantages over this: It's got a higher budget, is all around classier, and it doesn't have Bean Bandit in it. Other action flicks with some similarities include Catblue Dynamite for willfully '70s action with a lot more John Woo style, Tokyo Vice for a more sci-fi take on low-rent classic anime action, City Hunter for classic funk, action, and a simultaneously darker and funnier gun-toting tough guy, Bastard!! for a fantasy-style invincible anti hero, and lastly Cowboy Bebop for retro-funky sci-fi with an edge.
Notes and Trivia
Riding Bean is a standalone anime series, although it served as the prototype for the later and much better known Gunsmith Cats. Bean Bandit periodically appears in the comic version of Gunsmith Cats, but not in the anime version. This anime one-shot is not directly connected to Gunsmith Cats, however; it features characters who are basically the prototypes of Rally Vincent and May Hopkins, but their later incarnations are different enough that you can't really call it a prequel.
In addition to being an accomplished manga artist (Gunsmith Cats, Cannon God Exaxxion), Kenichi Sonoda did the original character designs for a couple of seminal '80s-era anime series (Gall Force and the earlier parts of Bubblegum Crisis). Despite his attractive and popular characters, he's not know for his originality--almost all of his characters are cut from one of a handful of molds.
US DVD Review
AnimEigo's DVD is a straightforward but solid production. All the basics are covered: Standard indexes, your choice of Japanese or English dialogue with or without subtitles, a gallery of stills and other artwork set to one 4-minute song from the soundtrack, and the trailer for the Japanese DVD (with translations of the onscreen text--not everybody seems to do that). The video looks good (particularly good for something this old), and although, as mentioned in the review, the dub audio has poor (almost nonexistent) stereo separation and sounds flat, the soundtrack is generally crisp. As with all AnimEigo releases, the DVD includes an insert of liner notes with lots of interesting trivia and complete song lyrics.
Fairly overt sexual themes and plenty of shooting knock this one into the 16-up range.
Violence: 3 - It opens with a couple of rather gory deaths.
Nudity: 2 - A bit of skin.
Sex/Mature Themes: 3 - Nothing graphic, but there are some very overt come-ons.
Language: 2 - Some profanity.