Friday, March 30, 2018
The Obscurities in the Western Connection Catalogue: “Salamander”
Format: PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles
Runtime: 3 episodes x 50 mins
Catalogue Numbers: WEST026, WEST030, WEST034
Japanese Title: Salamander
Japanese Production Date: 1988 – 1989
It’s been nearly four years, but I think I’m finally going to be able to do a few more articles for my long running Anime Archivist project, which was originally a continuation/rebirthing of my Lost World of Anime website and blog. So for my very first article back, I’m going to continue on with the fifth part in my series on the utterly obscure 1990’s UK based video distributor Western Connection and weird and wonderful anime titles that they released in English that no one else bothered to re-release anywhere else. 1995 was the most productive and also the final year of the company. They began that year with another obscure title, “Salamander”, which was based on a scrolling shooter video game and two games which preceded it. First, a rundown of the story;
Meanwhile in orbit around Gladius, three cadet pilots in the space force, Eddy, Dan and Lee McBain’s daughter, Stephanie, are investigating a wrecked space craft which has drifted into Gladius' orbit. Inside the trio discover a cryogenic chamber filled with dead alien bodies. Much to their surprise they discover a beautiful woman, unlike the other aliens is human in appearance, still alive in a frozen cryogenic state. A holographic message embedded in the cryogenic machine tells them that her name is Paola and she is from the fifth planet of the Sonar system. The message also has a further, darker warning; Paola's planet was attacked by an invading force called the Bacterian. First the stars were blocked out by a thick gas and it eventually reached the planet's surface, where it turned everything inorganic on the planet into a massive horrifying organic creature. The surviving inhabitants escaped, but where pursued ruthlessly by Bacterian fighters. Paola was the only survivor.
Upon their return Eddy is severely reprimanded by their commanding officer for firing on the enemy, something they were instructed not do, they were to observe only. Despite the fact he has discovered the weakness of the enemy fighters and in spite of Dan and Stephanie's protests, Eddy is demoted to Ground Division. He ends up being assigned to watching over Paola again. She tells him that Gladius has an ancient device that can control the Bacterians. She believes she can find it via her telepathy, and both set off in a fighter to track the object down. Meanwhile the Gladius Attack Force heads for a confrontation with the Bacterian base. Stephanie's father contacts her again via ESP and tells them that they are headed for a decoy and real base is elsewhere. He explains to her that he is in the Fortress “Zero”, and gives her the co-ordinates. Dan follows her when she breaks unexpectedly from the attack force. Both of them enter the fortress and in the centre of it Stephanie is shocked to discover the truth. Back on Gladius, Paola and Eddy have discovered the “controller”. It is an ancient obelisk, seen nothing more as tourist attraction by the locals. When Paola tries to get near it, it rises out of the ground and attacks her. Eddy decides to destroy it to stop it from killing Paola. When the dust settles, Eddy realises he has made the biggest mistake of his life.
But what suffers most in the series is the mecha design and the contradictory nature of the Bacterian. The invaders are supposedly organic in nature. Generally they take the form of Salamanders and turn planets into heaving great hulks of organic flesh. The metallic fighters and their base seem really out of place. Why would the Bacterian need to have inorganic machines to do battle for them? It's also obvious that a lot of the designs such as the fighters and ships, have been incorporated fairly faithfully into the anime. This however makes the designs look incredibly dated when compared to other mecha design in anime of that period. As with the staff, the cast include some well-known names who give good performances; Kazuhiko Inoue (Ninzaburo Shiratori in “Detective Conan”, Kakashi Hatake in “Naruto”), plays Eddy Evans, Kouji Tsujitani voices Dan (Yakumo Fujii in “3x3 Eyes”, Justy Ueki Tylor in “Irresponsible Captain Tylor”), Noriko Hidaka as Stephanie McBain (Noriko Takaya in “Gunbuster”, Shiny Chariot in “Little Witch Academia”, Akane Tendo in “Ranma ½”), the late Hirotaka Suzuoki was cast as Lord British (Bright Noa in the “Gundam” series, Dragon Shiryu in “Saint Seiya”) and finally Sumi Shimamoto as Paola (Ginrei in “Giant Robo”, Nausicaä in “Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind”).
As per usual Western Connection's adaptation and handling of the product is very poor. The subtitles on these three tapes are pretty appalling for a commercial product. Jonathan Clements's translation is good, but the subtitle timing is woefully off, even more so than their other releases, and there's also typos galore during all three tapes. Watching the tapes is a pretty painful experience due to these subtitles. While I can generally figure out who said what, it just makes for a completely frustrating viewing experience as the subtitles appear so randomly that you don't know when they'll appear next. This anticipation really lessens any enjoyment the viewer gets out of the show. The packaging of the tapes have a few problems too. The cover of the second tape is an extremely crappy photoshopped (like a very early version of Photoshop) one that they've put together themselves out of random screenshots from the series. It's shoddily done and quite ugly. The synopses on the back of the second and third tapes are surprisingly their own, are intelligible (for a change) and actually resemble what's on the tape, but the first tape's synopsis is clearly culled from Helen McCarthy's review of the series in Anime UK magazine (something Western Connection did consistently for it's releases), which mentions parts of the plot for the second tape. As a bonus, Western Connection have included the advert for one of the early “Salamander” console games at the end of the third volume. However I suspect this was just laziness on the part of Western Connection and was on the end of the original master tape they received.