Saturday, September 9, 2017
Forgotten Anime: “Grey: Digital Target”
Original Year of Release: 1986
English Video Release: 1997, NTSC VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English subtitles (also English Dubbed, NTSC VHS and 1994 UK PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English subtitles release)
Japanese Title: Grey: Digital Target
Runtime: 75 mins
Note: Originally posted on the "Lost World of Anime" website in 2006. Revised version published on the "Anime Archivist" blog in January 2013.
Quite a number of anime and manga have slipped out of the collective anime fandom’s memory. I suppose this is not surprising at all. Most modern day fans only have an interest in titles released in the last five or so years. What surprises me however is that a number of these titles which were quite popular in Japan have just about vanished from fandom there as well. Take manga artist Yoshihisa Tagami and one of his popular titles, “Grey”. In 1986, his manga was turned into an anime film. As always, first a rundown of what the film is about;
Grey is better known to all in the Town as “Grey Death”. Often Grey will be the only person in his squad to return alive from a battle. Squad 16422 are sent out on a new mission and take an instant disliking to Grey. They don’t like the fact that he refuses to obey orders or that he selfishly uses his own tactics to get the desired results to the determent of other Troopers. After taking on a platoon of armoured vehicles, the squad is reduced to half their number. Grey’s plan is to ambush the remaining enemy, but in the process only he and a female Trooper, Nova, survive. Though she finds him cold and distant at first, the two eventually become lovers. The relationship reminds Grey of his previous relationship with a woman named Lips. She became a Trooper to get out of the poverty of the slums, but eventually her number came up. Because of this, Grey decided to become a Trooper and attempts to avoid death at all costs to become a Citizen.
This film is quite an interesting adaptation of Yoshihisa Tagami’s “Grey” manga. It was directed by Satoshi Dezaki, the late Osamu Dezaki’s older brother no less, though Satoshi’s style of direction is a world apart from his younger sibling. The movie was originally released in cinemas in a double bill with the “Guyver” movie. Like the manga, the film is set up in “chapters”, with a title card indicating a new scene transition. Up until Grey and Nova’s meeting of the Resistance, the movie follows the manga quite faithfully. One of the major changes was the reference to the non-Troopers and Citizens as “People”, something which isn’t mentioned in Viz’s manga adaptation. Also of note are Nova’s comments about the Troopers lifestyle and her shock at discovering that Grey still lived in the slums with the “People”. One of the male Troopers in Grey’s doomed squad makes a less than subtle pass at him (a somewhat homophobic scene in retrospect) and the Resistance also make an early cameo appearance. Neither of these short scenes are not in the manga version either. With the aftermath of the surviving Resistance member’s attempts to get to Nagoshi, a major section dealing with one of the characters has been drastically changed. I’m not sure why the director decided to do this, as it was pretty unnecessary. But looking at other anime films of the time, I’m really not surprised. Other than these mostly cosmetic changes, the story of “Grey” hasn’t really been altered that much.
“Grey: Digital Target” is one of those rare anime that got a UK release from long gone video company Western Connection about three and a half years before the US. I was very fortunate not to get this version as like the majority of their titles, I imagine the subtitles were quite poorly timed (I’ll be doing a series on that company and their releases in the near future). I haven’t watched Viz’s dubbed version, but their subtitled release is excellent. Overall I think this film won’t appeal to many anime fans now days. It’s rather dark, somewhat weaker than the manga and visually very 1980’s. The main problem with it is that Dezaki seems to be at times trying to make the material a bit lighter and friendlier to a general audience, and it just comes off as cheesy at times. Despite the fact I think the manga is far superior, I quite like this film. It’s not a classic and has aged quite a bit especially in terms of the animation, but it’s a really solid piece of entertainment in a slightly trashy B-movie kind of way. I have to admit that I was rather disappointed with the film the first time I watched it, but with later viewings I really warmed to it. If you’re into dark dystopian sci-fi films and 1980’s anime, this is probably something you’ll love. For whatever reason the film barely gets a mention, if at all, when people discuss 1980’s anime. It seems to have slipped into the cracks and been bypassed by a lot of fans. Why this is a bit of a mystery as it’s actually not bad at all. In fact it’s much more mature, cleverly plotted and visually pleasing than a lot of sci-fi anime that came out of that decade.