Movie: Sometimes, I get a chance to see a show that was released long ago but is new to anime. Often enough, such shows don't live up to their hype since they rely far too heavily on reputation than on actual quality but there are times when the sheer nostalgia of the material outweighs my better senses and I like the show anyway. The latest show to test my long term memory is the subject of today's review of Golgo 13: The Professional. Shot back in the early 1980's, the show was the result of Saito Productions trying to bring the popular Manga to life, using the skills of director Osamu Dezaki to try and instill the anime version with the same sense of darkness, all to limited effect. Here's a quick look at the movie, noting that the English language version has been talked about as much for the fact that it was handled by Carl Macek (the guy known for converting three separate series into the Americanized Robotech, much to the chagrin of purists everywhere).
The lead character of the movie is a hitman that is known by his reputation more than his true name or anything else. Codenamed Golgo 13, the muscular man goes by "Duke" to his professional associates (the closest thing he has to friends) and is known to have never failed in an assignment. Essentially, once he's on the case, the target is as good as dead no matter what sorts of protection or bodyguards they employ. This movie shows him at his best, killing those in need of killing and having sex with large breasted anime women. I was slightly caught off guard by the graphic nudity the movie showed since it is getting rare to see naked women rolling around in bed with a guy these days (in anime at least) unless it involves tentacles (hentai shows).
The main storyline this time had Duke taking an assignment that involved killing a 29 year old oil magnate during the ceremony of his ascension to the leadership of a large oil company owned by his father, Leonard Dawson. Dawson is 62 years old and the absolute light of his life is his son who has been groomed since birth to take over. Without going into the reasons why the contract was initiated, Duke does what he does best and the result is one pissed off daddy. That it was a pissed off billionaire daddy was what caused the problems since the man then goes on a rampage using his fortune to employ anyone, and any government spy agency, to find and kill Duke. This leads to a cat and mouse chase across the continent where Duke alternately avoids or kills the would-be assassins, right up until the final showdown in the billionaire's skyscraper.
Most of the time, Duke's adventures were pretty generic as he was shot, fried, beaten, and stabbed by the horde of unnamed baddies. Like the Terminator, he rose time and again to beat the odds, even as his professional contacts fared less well against the endless supply of money and resources brought to bear against them, making Duke a loner even more than usual. The strength of the show was not the very limited animation style though so much as the single minded way he is pursued and how he stays true to form no matter what. That the movie was remade into two separate movies (and inspired a great many more) speaks volumes as to the kind of gee whiz action this one inspired but in the end, it was rather limited thematically too. Setting up various killers to be mowed down by Duke got repetitive to me and the visual elements of the Manga were slighted by this older styled anime (a remake would be great if it stayed true to the material). Still, I can't deny that for all the limitations of the material, it was a nice homage to the Manga that started a whole wave of similar projects throughout the years.
I'm going to rate this one as a Rent It although those of you looking for ultra violent confrontations between heavily armed men, gratuitous nudity and sex, and a blindingly simple premise; survive or die, will likely appreciate it far more than I did. Had it not been for my previous exposure to this one a long, long time ago, I'd probably like it even less since I'm less into the historical aspects of anime (IE: I don't give great ratings based on history) than others but it wasn't a bad flick to watch one time. Check it out and you'll likely see why it has such limited replay value unless you want to consider watching it once every 15 years.
Picture: Golgo 13: The Professional was presented in non-anamorphic widescreen color was an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. I believe that this was the original ratio although I've seen it on tape with a full frame presentation so don't quote me on that. The movie being from 1983, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from it but the animation itself could've been from a 1960's Marvel Comics release as often as not given the two dimensional art it used most of the time. In the producer interview (lasting a couple of minutes), he commented how the CGI parts of the movie cost millions of dollars but I suggest that his memory was failing since the whole production looked like a quickie trying to take advantage of a popular comic character. Conceptually, there was some interesting use of shadows but I suspect the main reason the movie became so popular is because so few movies containing nudity and ultra violence were made when this was new. The print used in the transfer was fair, making the movie look cleaner than it did long ago on VHS, but there were parts in great need of cleaning up for the multitude of scratches and grain too. The pattern noise was less apparent most of the time but it wasn't a terrible version of the movie overall with no compression artifacts observed on my initial or follow up viewing.
Sound: The audio was presented in a newly remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital selection of either the original Japanese or the publicized English language dub. The dub was superior this time as the original track came off as hollow to me in terms of the vocals. The music and sound effects weren't so bad in either case, easily outstripping the quality of the vocals by a wide margin yet the separation and dynamic range of all aspects of the audio track was greatly limited in my estimation. I understand the rose colored glasses used by some fans when viewing this one but like the visual elements; the audio was nothing special (even in the better parts).
Extras: The best extra was a short interview with producer Mata Yamamoto but he sure didn't have much to say here and that limited its value as an extra. There were also some trailers and a few stills taken from the movie offered up as artwork but my overall impression of the extras was that they were tossed on to placate people that rarely watch them rather than offer up a value adding bunch of unique extras for fans to enjoy.
Final Thoughts: Golgo 13: The Professional is better as the inspiration of the legion of other dark shows centering on assassins and violence than it is on its own. While I'm sure a number of you disagree on this point, feel free to dissect the individual aspects of the movie in a dispassionate manner and you'll be hard pressed to suggest it's anything out of the ordinary in terms of quality. I have mixed feelings on the use of computer generated graphics and while this may have been the first such use, it sure didn't do a whole lot with them so that historical footnote fell on blind eyes with me too. I applaud that the source material this was based on was interesting enough to spawn a lot of imitators (many greatly superior to this one by the way) and this elevated it to my rating it as a Rent It but I suspect an HD version will come along within a few years, hopefully looking and sounding better as well as offering up better extras so check it out but save your money instead of purchasing it.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk