Friday, November 23, 2018
The Obscurities in the Western Connection Catalogue: “Hummingbirds”
Format: PAL VHS, Japanese Dialogue with English Subtitles
Runtime: 47 mins (OVA 1), 26 mins (OVA 2)
Catalogue Number: WEST037
Japanese Title: Idol Boueitai Hummingbird (Idol Defence Force Hummingbird), Idol Boueitai Hummingbird ’94 Natsu (Hummingbird '94 Summer)
Japanese Production Date: 1993 - 1994
Continuing on with the seventh 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. This time we’re looking at my favourite title they released; “Hummingbirds”
The show's producer, Kudo, is quite interested in the girls performance despite of, or perhaps because of Satsuki's brain explosion. He arranges a meeting with the Hummingbirds' manager, Hazuki, also the girl's mother, where the two of them nut out a deal to make a record and music video to make them into idol superstars. But Satsuki is a little uneasy at the idea that she will be the focus of the group. Her real goal is to win the best pilot award and follow in the footsteps of her pilot father who disappeared while on a mission some eight years ago. Still the dancing and singing lessons and training begin in earnest and soon they are ready to make their debut. Standing in their way is the manager of SNAP, Yajima. He deliberately attempts to sabotage their debut by forcing the girls to wear animal costumes and performing in old clapped out Phantom F-4 jets, while out on a mock sortie against SNAP. While the girls reluctantly comply, they take out their revenge on the SNAP boys by locking on to all four of them to “shoot” them down in less than a minute.
Kudo for some unknown reason knows how to dismantle bombs and radios instructions to the girls. Naturally they discover the bomb is a fake and the girls take off just in the nick of time to perform their single, much to the displeasure of Yajima who had the fake bombs planted. Later at home, the Hummingbirds are called out to defend Japan against invading aircraft above Tokyo Bay. But the girls have to deal with Kudo and his cameraman offsider who have taken off in a helicopter to obtain footage of the girls in action for a music video. One of the enemy aircraft shoots at Kudo and it's up to Satsuki to save him. In the second OVA on the tape, an idol swimming competition on the USS Enterprise is interrupted by an invading plane. The Hummingbirds take off to investigate only to find that the pilot in question is an invited guest. However the guest takes it on himself to challenge the Hummingbirds and in particular goes after an unwilling Satsuki. The second eldest sister, the tomboyish Yayoi, locks on to the guest and gleefully “shoots” him down.
Essentially this show is nothing more than the core part of a multimedia project for a five woman idol group, oddly enough like the anime also called Hummingbird. The group was made up of Kotono Mitsuishi (who played Satsuki), Sakiko Tamagawa (Kanna), Yuri Amano (Yayoi), Fumie Kusachi (Uzuki), and Hekiru Shiina (Mina). Of those five, Kotono would be the most famous in the west. She has played Excel in “Excel Saga”, Murrue Ramius in “Gundam Seed”, Misato Katsuragi in “Evangelion” and in her most famous role, Usagi Tsukino and her alter ego Sailor Moon in the series of the same name. Sakiko although not a well-known name in the west, would most recognisable to fans as the voice of the Tachikoma in “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, Pirotess in “Record of Lodoss War” and Natsumi Tsujimoto in “You're Under Arrest”. In four short years, the group pumped out a huge catalogue of items including 14 albums, four singles, two concert videos, four cassette dramas, two pocket novels, three CD-ROMs and of course four anime OVAs.
The series itself is quite frankly totally inane. It's dumb, silly, quite superficial, mostly a cynical ploy to help the singing careers of five women and to sell a lot of merchandise. However it is quite fun like a lot of 1990's OVAs, and can be surprisingly clever and is very funny most of its length. Like Macross, we have a defence force and idol singers, but this time it's played for laughs. Everyone involved knows the show is silly and is having fun with the concept. Funnily enough “Macross 7”, released two years after this video series, was somewhat similar with a band that defended their Macross cruiser home against enemy attack by flying in Valkyries and singing. The “Hummingbird” anime's story focuses mainly on the middle sister Satsuki, but there are moments dedicated to all of the sisters. As the ages of the girls range from 12 to 19 and with a number of personalities between all five, there is probably a girl here to please anyone. And with all of the insert songs and concert scenes (as well as the merchandise tie-ins), of course the show is squarely aimed at the idol otaku. There are quite a few fan service shots but unlike a lot of modern anime it's relatively tame.
Western Connection’s VHS tape contains only the first two OVAs. Frustratingly the tape has edits to the closing animation on the first OVA and both the opening and closing animations on the second. First they removed the end credits to the first OVA, but then also cut the opening to second OVA, removed the ending of episode two and stuck the opening of episode two on the end of the OVA. Seamless it ain't. There's a prologue before the opening credits on episode two, and the opening theme song begins before the opening animation starts. The sloppy editing with the music abruptly stopping is incredibly jarring. There were two reasons why this was done, both explained by translator and UK anime guru Jonathan Clements. In an article on music translation in Anime FX magazine from 1995, Clements explained the ending was cut because he had received a video tape from the company which had audio through one stereo channel only. As some of the solo singing of the girls was panned into left or right channels in end song on the second OVA, he couldn't hear the lyrics to the whole song, hence he couldn't translate the whole thing and therefore the ending was cut.
What the hell is up with that?! Am I watching some crappy little fan subtitled tape or a professional release? Honestly, what sort of professional video company does that? Oh that's right, I forgot I was watching a Western Connection tape. They aren't professionals. The packaging is the usual; slapped together artwork and the synopsis from Anime FX. The artwork isn't too bad, but the picture is stretched on the front and text covers Mina's face. In late 1995 in the news section of Anime FX magazine, it was stated that Western Connection had acquired the remaining two unreleased OVAs for “Hummingbirds” and were planning to release them in 1996. However by the time 1996 rolled around the company was dead and buried. I suspect they hadn’t even acquired the OVAs and Cipkalo was just stringing the public along.