Friday, December 15, 2017

The Obscurities in the Western Connection Catalogue: “Galactic Pirates”

Release Date: 31 May 1994
Format: PAL VHS, English Dubbed
Runtime: 6 episodes x 25 mins (edited into three 47 min episodes)
Catalogue Numbers: WEST011, WEST012, WEST013
Japanese Title: Teki wa Kaizoku: Neko no Kyoen (The Enemy are Pirates: Banquet of Cats)
Japanese Production Date: 1989

Note: Originally published on the "Anime Archivist" blog May 2014, based on previous versions published on the "Lost World of Anime" website and blog in 2004 and 2009.

In the short period Western Connection existed as an anime distributor, of the 15 or so titles in their catalogue, amazingly only two were English dubbed. It’s really bizarre especially when you consider that the environment they were operating in was the United Kingdom in the mid 1990’s. Island Records was the dominant force with their Manga Entertainment video label. While Island’s marketing plan was aimed a general audience (which boiled down to teenage boys looking for ultraviolent films), it’s really hard to imagine that Western Connection were deliberately aiming for the small anime fandom market in the UK wanting subtitled tapes of obscure OVAs and films. As I said in previous instalments, it was most likely a “buy a cheap licence, get it out cheap” mentality. And so we come to this title “Galactic Pirates”, an utterly obscure English dub of an equally obscure six part series, rejected by every other English language distributor it was offered to. The story behind the dub is perhaps a little more interesting than the anime itself, but I might as well give a rundown of the show;

Sometime in the future, somewhere out in space (well the anime’s not really too clear about when and where it’s set), we meet Apollo, an anamorphic alien cat who talks and can control minds. He’s rather angry that his bird shaped snacks he’s just bought won’t fly like they do in the TV commercial. Apollo is interrupted by his work partner, Latell, a normal human who is angry Apollo’s constant snacking and because he scoffed his box of chocolates that were given to him by a girl. A fight ensues and the space relaxation centre they’re in is damaged, causing the air, as well as everything else, to be almost entirely sucked out into the vacuum of space. Believe it or not these two are officers in the Pirate Control section of the Galactic Police. Their destruction of the centre is interrupted by one of the lower ranking officers Marsha, a young female cadet whom Latell has an interest in. But Marsha hates Latell, but loves Apollo, even though it’s blatantly obvious to everyone Apollo is the worse of the pair. Marsha asks the duo to report to their boss, who promptly sacks both them due to their performance in last case in which they caused almost a million dollars’ worth of damage and hundreds of complaints were made. Latell attempts to protest, but Apollo controls Latell’s emotions so he doesn’t do anything crazy, like shooting Apollo. Apollo quickly decides that if he can no longer hunt down pirates as a member of the Galactic Police, he’ll become a pirate himself. Before Latell gets a chance to pursue Apollo, his boss gives him a disc which contains details on a new mission for both of them (despite the fact he’s just sacked them).

In the meantime Apollo is in the process of stealing the duo’s space craft, Dola, (a class “A” artificial intelligence ship), but Latell manages to get on board before he launches. Tired of the gluttonous cat, he vows to kill him for losing their jobs, but soon quietens down when Dola tells him that there’s no record of them being dismissed from the Galactic Police. Latell’s mission is to investigate pirate connections with the Titan Movie Company, of which Apollo has apparently been asked to play a role in a 3D movie they are making (yes, I am aware that this story makes little sense). Dola warps into what they initially think is a 3D movie theatre near Saturn. But instead of a fake 3D projection of a battle, real pirate fighters begin to attack them. Dola is hit and they are forced to land on Titan. Latell and Apollo infiltrate the studio and discover the owner, Santos, strapped to a machine. Strangely he is beginning to turn into some sort of dragon-like creature. It’s the work of the C.A.T. System 86, an old forbidden computer system that invades people’s thought processes and can even turn people into other things, in this case a dragon. Latell and Apollo are attacked by what appear to be 3D characters from a movie, but are in fact robots controlled by pirates. While battling the robots, they discover a pirate ship which they believe is owned by the “Phantom Pirate” Yomei. However it launches before they have any chance of stoping it, and worse luck follows with pirates now attacking them. Somehow in the midst of all this chaos, the duo manage to escape with Santos, kill the pirates and force the pirate ship to crash, with a little help from Dola.

Later Marsha travels to Titan to deliver a holographic message to Latell and Apollo from their boss. After giving them a bizarrely excuse as to why he pretended to fire them (because the Titan Movie Company wanted to make Apollo a star?!), he explains that Yomei is planning to take over the solar system using the C.A.T. System 86. Only problem is that it is very unstable and it can even effect intelligent craft like Dola. However a man named Katz, who is working with the pirates has managed to make the system controllable. Their next mission will be to the Tohungas crater on Mars where Yomei is believed to be. Much to her surprise, the message also informs Marsha that she has been promoted to lieutenant and will be joining both of them on the mission. However before they take off, Apollo spots Yomei’s offsider, Jubilee, and decides to follow and arrest him in a illegally commandeered supply truck. Apollo discovers that Jubilee is going to kill Santos to stop him from talking and thwarts his plans by bombing his car. However this doesn’t kill Jubilee, it only makes him mad. This puts Apollo in a situation where is staring down certain death, however Marsha and Latell rush to save him. After a lengthy chase unfortunately Jubilee escapes with Yomei and the other pirates.

On Mars, the three Pirate Control offices end up playing baseball with the local Counter Crime police group (with Dola playing as well of course). Naturally this is a very clever ruse to hide the fact they’re here secretly to discover where the pirates are hiding the C.A.T. System 86. Due to their dislike of each other, fights break out between the two teams. Eventually weapons and power suits are in use and it degenerates into complete chaos as the local police fight themselves by accident. However peace somehow prevails, and at the end when a commemorative photo is taken, Latell discovers that the Counter Crime police are beginning to turn into cats. Latell orders Apollo to mind control both him and Marsha so they won’t transform. As they travel to the city, they find everyone has turned into cats. Even their ship, Dola is literally now a cat (albeit a flying one). Due to a factional split in Yomei’s group, the pirates have decided to use the Tohungas crater on Mars as a test ground for the C.A.T. System 86. The only other person not to have turned into a cat is a lieutenant called Petoria from the Counter Crime police group, whose utter disgust for Apollo has stopped his transformation. The situation is desperate. They must find out where the C.A.T. System 86 is on the planet and switch it off before it’s too late.

Unless you were a fan of anime and living in the UK in the mid 1990’s, I wouldn’t really be surprised if you’ve never heard of this series. Oddly enough in 1996 or so, I found the Western Connection tapes of the series in a mainstream video rental shop in the southern suburbs of Canberra. This is rather strange as the show has never been released in Australia. Upon closer inspection it was quite obvious that the tapes were copies (i.e. bootlegs). It seems as if the owner of the video store had copied the tapes and made colour photocopied the covers so he could rent it out. It wasn’t until two years later when I came across a VHS fansub of the series that I actually watched the show. The show is based upon a series of novels (nine currently) by award winning Japanese sci-fi novelist Chohei Kanbayashi of “Yukikaze” fame. Unlike that anime, “The Enemy are Pirates” is more comedy and action based, very much in the same vein as “Dirty Pair”. With the short number of episodes, most people would assume that this show is an OVA. Not so, it’s actually a TV series. Only two months after the station opened for business, satellite pay TV station Asahi Newstar screened the six part “The Enemy are Pirates” one episode a day between 26th December and 31st December 1989. It was later given a three part video release (two episodes per tape/laserdisc) in 1990.

The series is quite silly and illogical at times, but it is reasonably funny. But at the end of the day, it’s not what you’d call a memorable title. It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination. This version of the show though destroys most of the elements which made the original version fun to watch. The central problem here is clearly is the English dub. This rather obscure English dubbed version was made in the UK in the early 1990’s by Atlantic Post Productions and Quiet Storm Ltd with the usual cast of American and Canadian ex-pats and British actors putting on American accents. The dub was in part commissioned by French based European distribution company Ucore for the Japanese copyright holder, Kitty Films. As previously stated, I have been lucky enough to have seen the series in its original language a number of years before I acquired these dubbed tapes. I thank the long absent lord for that because if I had only seen the dub, I would have had a very hard time following the storyline. With awful scripting and at times quite dull, monotone acting, the English dub makes the show pretty much incomprehensible a good deal of the time. Probably the best element of the dub is the part of Apollo, played by an actor who thought that the character should sound like he came from the set of a 1970’s blacksploitaion flick. Apollo’s dialogue provides most of the humour in the dub (possibly some of it unintentional). At one point Apollo states that he’ll join the space pirates because he’ll be able to “…eat anything, just like a honkey”. I had to rewind the tape a couple times just to make sure I heard that right. The English script writer and translator, who goes under the bizarre pseudonym of “Dr. D. Shoop”, obviously loved the words “shit” and “arse” (though that should be “ass” as everyone has an American accent). Not five minutes go past without either word being said.

The dub seems to be hated universally. During the Kitty Film panel at the 1993 Anime Expo, Helen McCarthy stood up and voiced her displeasure of the dub while the panel played a tape of it. Everyone in attendance applauded her apparently. Maybe I’m being a bit narky here, but perhaps people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, as Helen had a hand in both the UK only released dubs of “Cat Girl Nuku Nuku” and “K.O. Century Beast Warriors”. Most sane people would say neither of those are a high water mark for English dubbing. Oddly the very next year when it came to reviewing the series Helen stated in Anime UK magazine that the show was “…dubbed adequately, if a little stilted”. In fact the series got a generally positive review. Strange, considering her outburst at the Kitty Film panel the previous year. If the copyright is correct on these tapes (which I have a feeling it wasn’t), Kitty Film had been trying to sell the series for three years before Western Connection picked it up and released the entire series in May 1994. The only changes they’ve made was their patented “snip-snip” to the opening and closing credits on each of the tapes to obtain their discount from the British Board of Film Classification (it’s more expensive if companies submit a tape with multiple episodes on it). So six episodes became three. Well at least the editing looks a little more professional than some of their latter releases. Surprisingly the artwork and design is quite nice on all three tapes. However the covers are printed on some really low grade paper stock, almost like butcher’s paper. For whatever reason, the tapes claim the show has a “18” rating, but the BBFC website states they got “15” and “PG” ratings. I am baffled as to why Western Connection would deliberately label their tapes “18”.

One of the more unusual elements in this show is the music. What a lot of people in the west don’t know is that if you’re a rock or pop star and your career dies, you can always head over to Japan and make some cash there (hence the term “Big in Japan”). Sometime in the late 1980’s ex-members of Saxon, Iron Maiden and Uriah Heep formed a band called Air Pavilion, headed over to Japan, and performed the opening, closing and insert tracks to the series. Air Pavilion fit into the “hard rock” genre, the stuff that late 1980’s commercial FM radio stations (the ones that had “black thunders filled with icy cold cans of coke” roaming your local city), just loved to play. So in other words the music is of the big-haired 1980’s hard rock variety, but still it’s still a lot better that the cutesy idol stuff of the period. Reading back on this review, I’ve probably made this show sound worse than what it truly is. In its original format, it’s a reasonably funny series, but this English version is quite horrid. Very occasionally the acting is passable, but the majority of it is truly shocking and really not helped by the rather clunky dialogue. The series was released as a box set on DVD in 2003 by Pioneer in Japan (now out of print), but did not come with the dub or English subtitles. So if you really want a legit copy of this series in English, these tapes are the only way to get it. I highly doubt this show will be released ever again.

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