Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Obscurities in the Western Connection Catalogue: “Samurai Gold”

Release Date: 19 September 1994
Format: PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles
Runtime: 60 mins
Catalogue Number: WEST018
Japanese Title: Toyamazakura Uchucho Yatsu no Nawa Gold (Cosmic Commander of the Toyama Cherry Trees: His Name is Gold)
Japanese Production Date: 1988

Note: Originally published on the "Anime Archivist" blog June 2014, based on a previous version published on the "Lost World of Anime" website in 2005.

This is the fourth part in a series of nine articles on the somewhat obscure 1990’s UK based video distributor Western Connection and the anime titles that they released in English, titles that no one else bothered to re-released anywhere else. For a run down on what I thought made the company so special, see here. During 1994, the company continued on down the path of releasing some very obscure titles. Slightly more well known titles such as “Grey: Digital Target” got an English subtitled release several years before the USA as well. And so we come to yet another obscurity; “Samurai Gold”; a sci-fi anime adaptation of a late 19th century kabuki play. Here’s a rundown of the show I swiped from a review I wrote long ago;

It is the late 21st century. Japan is now linked together with a number of its own space colonies by a giant computer named EDO. Helping EDO are five Overseers. One of the five, Retklaad Mount has a son he has disowned named Gold who is bit of a playboy. After losing his money by gambling it away at a seedy bar, Gold and his girlfriend, Midi, are set upon by a group of cyborgs and a mountainous gay strongman. Even though he fights valiantly, the attackers flee when a squad of police arrive headed up by Gold’s uncle, Ebota. Ebota tells him that his father has been injured in an attempt on his life by an assassin. However the only the only thing his father says about his attacker was that a ghost tried to kill him. Ebota thinks it may have something to do with Retklaad’s recent trip to the space colony Fedovar. Ebota manages to convince Gold to look into the matter.

Gold arrives in Fedovar with Midi and meets up with Ebota’s son, Ritt. Ritt has been looking into the attempt on Retklaad’s life and has made some surprising discoveries. Retklaad was supervising a test flight of a small space craft named Ovaconia. On board was the ruler of Fedovar, Tonodono Plenmatz, his wife and his son Ion. During the fight, the ship goes out of control and crashes, apparently killing all on board. Afterwards people connected to the ship and the family commit suicide or end up having fatal accidents. Ritt and Gold decide to check out the abandoned Plenmatz mansion. Unfortunately inside they discover the large gay man who attacked Gold on Earth had been following him and the pair end up dodging his massive blade. The killer tells Gold that he was the family butler and faked his own suicide to avenge the deaths of his employer. He believes that Retklaad casued their deaths. Gold doesn’t get much more information out of him as during their fight he throws the butler out of the window.

Gold has also discovered information in the mansion that that shows Midi is actually Princess Beryl Plenmatz. When he confronts her about this, Ion Plenmatz, her brother who was assumed dead suddenly appears and confronts Gold. Ion tells Gold he was the one who attacked his father and asked Midi to pretend to be his girlfriend so she could get close to him in order to extract revenge on him. Ion also believes that Retklaad is responsible of the death of his parents and wants revenge against the Overseers. Midi doesn’t want Ion to kill Gold but with his henchmen, Ion hunts Gold down and blows up a section of swamp Gold has run into for protection. Ion believes he Gold has been eliminated.

Midi returns to Ritt’s house in utter disbelief over the death of Gold. However they hold out faint hope that he may have survived and wait for several days in hope for him to return. The pair are soon surprised to see a news report on TV saying that Gold has been appointed as a new Overseer. In a press conference, Gold claims Ion has been killed and that he has received information that Retklaad was part of a conspiracy to kill the Plenmatz family. The other Overseers begrudgingly decide to hold a trial for Retklaad, but they know a lot more about the conspiracy than they are willing to say in public.

The OVA is based upon a light novel which essentially is based vaguely upon a novelisation of a kabuki play called “Toyama no Kin-san” from the 1890’s. The kabuki play itself is based upon the life of an actual person named Kinshiro Toyama, who lived about 50 years before the play was written. The OVA plays like a samurai drama set in space with an extended court room scene at the end. Despite the fact it is set in a sci-fi setting, many of the elements are deeply inspired by the designs and culture of the Edo era (1603 to 1868).

Though my synopsis makes this OVA look like it’s a serious piece of drama, quite frankly on the surface it’s complete fluff. The plot is certainly there and it’s quite good and has plenty of twists, but at times it just hangs there in the background, and if you weren’t paying attention to it, it just wouldn’t really matter. It plays second fiddle to the comedy, action set pieces and the laser sword fight scenes that take centre stage. That is until the quite long and somewhat dry court room scene at the end of the OVA. This manages to put a spanner in the works and if it wasn’t for another laser sword fight sequence in the middle of it, things would have come to a grinding halt.

There’s some odd stuff and arguably what could be seen as a number of blatant rip-offs in this one shot anime. First the space colony Fedovar looks exactly like the space colonies from Gundam. I’m amazed the lawyers from Sunrise didn’t come knocking at their door. Then again they were a direct lift of Gerard O’Neill’s cylinder colonies. Second was Ritt. He looks almost exactly like Yusuke Urameshi from “Yu Yu Hakusho”. Note that “Yu Yu Hakusho” wasn’t released until 1992. Hmm… The elderly Overseers may also look familiar to anyone who’s seen “The Wings of Honeamise”. Putting aside everything else and that damned court room sequence at the end, the worst element of “Samurai Gold” is the horrible voice acting of the woman who plays Midi, Hashimoto Kazuko. She’s the worst Japanese voice actor I’ve heard in a long time. There’s no emotion in her voice, and at times she sounds like a robot. She’s pretty bad. Kazuko seems to have landed the role only there because she’s a singer (Midi sings a couple of songs in the show).

Despite the negative points which are few and far in between, I kinda liked this OVA. The character designs are pretty good (despite Gold’s mullet), the action is handled well, the comedy at times hits the right spot and music is one of the highlights with some good orchestral pieces. The bottom line is that it’s sort of fun for what it is. It flows pretty well and it’s action scenes are well done, but the totally misplaced court room sequence (well it’s more like a Roman Colosseum than a court room) destroys that flow and the interest of most of the audience.

But being a Western Connection release, of course the VHS tape itself is riddled with problems. The subtitle timing is horrendous on this one. More than a couple of times I had to figure out who said what as the previous lines would end up looking like being said by another character. And to make matters worse, characters would talk, and there would be no subtitles. Jesus Christ, there’s just no professionalism on display here at all. The plot is already convoluted as it is. The subtitles just confuse things further. And then we get this credit during end title sequence;

Seriously, what the fuck? The only time I’ve ever seen this kind of rubbish on a commercial anime tape or DVD is on a Western Connection tape. What were they thinking? The other weird thing which I have only really seen on Western Connection tapes, is that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) rating is actually a sticker, not printed on the cover itself. Somehow the VHS slicks were being printed before the tape had been rated by the BBFC, then the appropriate classification sticker was (crudely) stuck on. Pretty much every Western Connection release from this tape onwards has a classification sticker affixed to the tape’s slick. I really can’t fathom how or why this would be a good idea. There’s also the synopsis of the anime, taken directly from the Anime UK/Anime FX magazine review. So Western Connection where sending preview copies to the magazine, getting the review early, then quickly designing the covers using the reviews as the synopsis on the back and then somehow printing up the covers before the BBFC had a chance to classify it? The mind just boggles at the insane way this company must have been run.

This yet another case where a completely unknown anime was given a subtitled release in the UK without having any kind of release in the USA. And like many of these OVAs, it hasn’t had a re-release on DVD in Japan and it’s highly unlikely to either. In fact judging by the lack of information I can find on the title, I’d guess it has been long forgotten by Japanese fans. In 2018, the Western Connection version is (unsurprisingly) quite rare. I can't find a copy anywhere for sale in the second hand market. It’s an OK OVA, but you’re not going to be missing much if you don’t watch it. Despite the fact it is a little bit forgettable and nowhere near being a masterpiece, I still find it a little sad that anime like this will eventually end up disappearing into the ether, forgotten by anime fans and never to be seen ever again.

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