In 1998 I sat watching the Prince of Space episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I heard Tom Servo ask if the Satellite of Love’s weekly experiment was going to be a “hyper-violent porn cartoon” and immediately flashed back to the Guyver. And there goes the last otaku in the room. He was willing to put up with me until now, but that one was just over the line. Bye, dude! ‘Least he left before I started talking about Evangelion.
But first: based off a long-running, serialized manga series with some of the same characters and a similar name, Guyver: Out of Control took a long time to reach the U.S. But when it got here, in the dark year of 1993, it spread far and wide. Like a tentacle monster, it crept into the orifices of North American geekdom and, for better or worse, colored a generation’s perceptions of what anime was and could be.
But mostly worse since, as we’ll see below, it’s pretty crappy.
Things starts off well enough on the usual dark and stormy night with a creepy-looking truck driver picking up a slightly creepier-looking hitchhiker and his bag of “spare parts.” Believing the bag’s full of either money or drugs (and since it’s the 80s, I don’t really blame him) the truck driver throws the hitchhiker out. But this is Japan, so instead the hitchhiker’s bag contains three alien devices called “Guyver units.” And the hitchhiker turns into a red-eyed monster and drags the truck driver through the windshield in order to get his own back. Cue credits.
Not bad so far, right? It’s like a two minute Outer Limits episode and the best thing about this fifty-two minute movie. Unfortunately, we cut to everyman high school student Sho (Yû Mizushima), and his Obligatory Love Interest, Mizuki (Michie Tomizawa). Their introduction is full of radiant morning light, lens flares, sparkling water, and soothing flute music. You just know something horrible is about to befall them. And because this is a crappy Original Video Animation (Japan’s answer to “straight-to-video,” often abbreviated as “OVA”) from the mid-80s,we don’t have long to wait. Anything longer might’ve pushed the budget past four figures.
Five minutes in we cut from Sho and Mizuki’s morning routine straight to their evening walk home from a student council meeting that, of course, ran late. Were this an actual film, it might’ve used that day to let the audience learn something (and thus learn to give a shit) about it’s characters.
But this is Guyver: Out of Control, so its time for some of that hyper-violence. Dismemberment’s always been the order of Guyver‘s day, and these old OVAs do like to cut to “the good part.” Seven minutes in we find the hitchhiker cornered by helmeted agents of his former employer, the Chronos Corporation. The hitchhiker shapeshifts into monster form – looking more like a human musculature chart than anything else – only to get his arms ripped off by the Chronos team leader…who transforms into an even bigger monster with skin. Good thing the hitchhiker booby trapped his bag o’ tricks.
Observing the explosion, Sho and Mizuki are shocked to find the plot – meaning one of the hitchhiker’s “spare parts” – literally land at their feet. Sho makes the classical nerd mistake of touching the damn thing, which he assumes to be some alien artifact. He’s right, but that doesn’t make his pawing it any less stupid. The thing immediately engulfs him in bio-mechanical suit of armor the agents of Chronos refer to as “Guyver.”
With it, Sho easily takes karmic revenge on Chronos’ thugs in the name of that dead hitchhiker, ripping the lead monster’s arms off and slaughtering the rest of the agents in various and sundry offscreen ways. Obviously, everyone in Guyver’s universe suffers from blood pressure so high it would kill we mere mortals and there’s a cavalier, Splatterhouse feel to every one of the Guyver’s many, many fight scenes, no matter the medium. These days, I wonder if this isn’t a stealth parody of the very hyper-violent, 1980s comic book anti-heroes the Guyver usually exemplifies. Or maybe I’m just projecting.
So after Our Hero’s turned his first batch of thugs into a trail of spare parts, Sho almost touches his unconscious girlfriend with his bloody, Guyver-ed hands. This freaks him right the fuck out, while dismembering a trail of henchmen was such a non-event the movie cut away from it…to a shot of some random tree. Thankfully, standing up and shouting “NO!” is enough to make the armor teleport itself away. Sho’s summation of the whole evening is priceless:
I guess I’ve been watching too much anime.
You learn two things about Out of Control from this introductory action sequence: (1) whether you like it or not and (2) that this fucking movie’s stuck on fast-forward. What the hell? Most movies take a good half hour to give to their superhero his powers.
Again, this is an OVA. So the next scene finds Sho in class, getting shit form the dumbass friends who usually show up in high school-centric anime. Turns out he wound up carrying the unconscious Mizuki home last night, but she woke up halfway there and accused Sho of being a pervert. Sho’s being mopey about this, and his friends are ripping on him for it.
Then the movie answers my silent prayers by immediately killing off both of Sho’s Odious Comic Relief friends. You know you’ve got an Evil Corporation on your ass when they start blowing away your classmates in the middle of the school day. That’s Thinking of the Children for ya.
We cut away from Sho to meet the other side of Guyver‘s coin – Supervisor Fanservice…I mean, Valcuria (Keiko Toda). Who, being a woman in ’80s anime, gets introduced through a gratuitous workout sequence. And a gratuitous post-workout shower scene! Because it wasn’t enough you panned across her ass while she was working out (in her regulation work-out thong, no less). You have to get our main antagonist naked and into a pin-up girl pose as soon as possible…and then hold the shot…for thirty-seconds…
Way to kill the tension, movie.
Seriously, you young’uns don’t know how lucky you are. In my day, cartoon boobs were as rare as good photos of the Loch Ness Monster. In the days before streaming video, we had to hunt down our cartoon boobs in obscure crap like this. Assuming we even heard about it, our local video stores probably didn’t stock it…and even if they did, we needed a TV/VCR set-up in our rooms…because there was no way we were going to share this with our parents.
After that little T&A Break, a thankfully-clothed Valcuria stands around giving some back story to her…subordinate…?…Mr. Makishima (Jun Hasumi). The movie’s not all that clear about their relative positions in the Evil Corporate Hierarchy. But I get the sense Makishima runs the secret base Chronos Japan’s hiding under Tokyo’s dockyards. Meaning the hitchhiker and his bag of “spare parts” walked out the door on Makishima’s watch. That would make Valcuria the corporate fixer charged by Chronos’ Home Office with officially pissing on Makishima’s parade now that he’s fucked things up so royally: a hot, redheaded Winston Wolf. And who couldn’t get behind that?
At this point, nearly everyone in Sho’s life is dead. That’s unfortunate for Our Hero, but it’s doubly unfortunate for us because Our Hero (rather than proactively try to find something out about the alien device he literally stumbled upon, or the vicious monsters who keep murdering his friends) is a whinny tool. Meaning the only characters we can really have fun with are the villains. I get that Sho’s traumatized. An Evil Corporation’s running around, killing his family and friends because he accidentally infected himself with an alien battlesuit that the Evil Corporation wants to reverse engineer (and, it’s implied, eventually mass produce). I get that. What I don’t get is why in God’s name he thinks going to the police with this qualifies as “a good idea.” At this point, he’s just asking for trouble. Even if he doesn’t know the full extent of Chronos Corps. power, he knows the people chasing him are willing to kill children IN SCHOOL. During the MIDDLE OF THE DAY. This is way out of the local bacon shack’s league, Sho. .
Sure enough, it turns out Chronos is such an ee-vil corporation they’ve already got the police in their pocket. Hell, they’ve even got agents on site, ready to intercept Sho with creepy threats and morph into Lizard Mode as soon as Sho’s done bleating out The Story So Far.
The Great Lizard Detective also reveals Chronos has kidnapped Mizuki. This gets Sho angry enough to overcome his natural first inclination, crying, and pull the Guyver back from…wherever it stashes itself when it disappears. And even with all my bitching, this movie does manage to capture one essential fact: once the Guyver gets going, it’s every inch the badass. It’s got all the super strength, speed and fire power you could ever want in a suit of armor, plus an aesthetic that’s just original enough to rise above its brethren in the super sentai ranks. In a world dominated by Ultramen and Kamen Riders, Guyver’s like the low class family member everyone talks shit about behind their back. “Gives us all a bad name,” they say. But where others might waste time in a ten minute fight scene, the Guyver says “Fuck the police” with one blast from the laser cannons hidden in its chest.
This creates more than enough clear space for Sho to escape, and probably vaporized a good chunk of that floor he was on, too. Our Hero, ladies and gentlemen: he leaves innocent bystanders dead in his wake. Because that’s dark and edgy. One might dare call it extreme!
The next scene proves all the critics of this franchise right, as Supervisor Valcura’s pretty much tentacle raped by the only Guyver unit Chronos managed to recover from last night’s kerfuffle. Her clothes vanish as soon as her transformation begins, since she and we seem to shift into this weird hyper reality: a dimension very much of of sight and sound, where no mind need enter. You’ve just crossed over into…the Fanservice Zone. The scenes that occur in this reality are…distasteful, and best left to the imagination…but at least her clothes come back once we rejoin the “real” world. And Valcuria seems completely unperturbed by…whatever the hell just happened. Does this make Valcuria a stronger character for refusing to be defined by tentacle rape? Or trivialize her suffering by linking her tentacle rape to her power? After all, she gets the armor. With it, she instantly recognizes the possibility that she can haul Sho back to the Evil Corporate Lab singlehandedly! No more sacrificing peons (or buildings) to the bio-mechanical grist mill. With her training, augmented by Guyver power, Valcura reasons she can pick Sho up by the scruff of the neck and let the tech boys cut him out of his suit (or vice versa). Especially since they’ve got Sho’s girlfriend tied up in the lower levels, so it’s not long before Sho comes a’knocking (in fact, all it takes is a montage). Valcura just has to sit and wait…
I must say, the Guyver gets one of the jazziest, synthiest, most disco-tastic themes I’ve heard in a long time, so at odds with the general blood-and-guts tone of the piece it could only have seemed like a good idea back in the mid-80s. It’s about the best thing here. So far, everything else in Out of Control has been disappointing, if not downright gross.
And then it gets worse.
See, this thing was cheap when it came out, and the final fight scene shows this off in the worst possible way. After allowing Sho to mow down another battalion of Chronos Redshirts, Valcuria finally comes topside to confront him. And you’re thinking, Okay…right. We’ve finally made it. This is the big draw: some hot Guyver on Guyver action! The Designated Hero who’s really a scared little boy in a playsuit vs. the Badass Femme Fatale/highly-trained corporate asskicker. Will the Power of Plot Contrivance allow Sho to save his lady fair? Who cares: this fight’s going to be epic, right? This is obviously what they were saving up all their money for! That’s why all the other fights are filled with random cutaways and the gratuitous overuse of speed-lines…right?
You’d think. But you’d be wrong. Because the disappointment doesn’t stop with Guyver: Out of Control. It actively finds new levels of suck and punches you through several reinforced walls just to make sure you get into them. Sho and Valcuria’s fight is fifty-percent recycled footage. And I’m not talking about recycled footage from previous fight scenes. I’m talking about one shot, from this very same fight, which appears at least three times.
And that’s just one shot. Godzilla movies from the early ’70s featured more original fight footage than this…and Out of Control is a stand-alone film! Jun Fukuda may have gotten desperate there at the end, but at least he was never this shameless. He’d steal footage from previous films, by God, and we weren’t supposed to know the difference because those were film’s from last year. Out of Control recycles footage we just saw five minutes ago. Way to ruin the emotional high point of your film, geniuses. Also, it turns out Valcuria sucks as a hand-to-hand fighter, regardless of her powers.
With the mood deader than as all those poor, working class shills Sho sliced open on his way to rescue The Girl, I have more than enough time to wonder about Chronos’ so-called “plan.”
Step 1: Shoot Sho’s friends in the face right in front of him. Sure, you could just shoot him, but we need him alive for some arbitrary reason. And kill anyone who gets in your way while you’re at it. Sho’s sure to dramatically come across their bodies as he’s stumbling around, further traumatizing him.
Step 2: Kidnap Sho’s girlfriend. Chain her to a wall. Make a creepy videotape of her chained to a wall, being molested by an unseen assailant.
Step 3: Make multiple copies of the tape. Deliver one to every police station within a certain radius of Sho’s school, along with on-site agents. Wait.
Step 4: Show the tape to Sho when he comes in, rambling about monsters and murder and such. Kidnap him.
Step 5: In the event that Sho – who, I remind you, is possessed by a bio-mechanical warsuit powerful enough to make anybody a one-man kung-fu army with short swords coming out of their elbows – somehow manages to escape, Supervisor Valcuria will engage him in a one-on-one fight atop our hidden underground base. There’s no way two people having a super powered slugfest on the roof could cause any collateral damage…right?
Still, it’s not all bad. The plot is a rushed, cliff-notes version of the manga’s first few issues. And everyone acts like a fool who’s never seen an anime before – especially the kid who chalks up his near-death/alien mech-suit experience to having watched “too much anime.” But the voice acting is okay – not that anyone has anything interesting to do other than yell – and there are a few cool shots. Like this one that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World totally ripped off.
And the few times the animation budget allows the Guyver(s) to stretch their legs are cool for what they are: more boilerplate, superhero stuff. In the end, though, I think we can chalk this one up Fetish Fuel and not be sad that it’s (at the time of this writing) out of print. I’m told the Guyver animated series that followed this OVA did a much better job telling the same story, as did its mid-2000s remake. Us, though? We’ve got at least two more shitty Guyver movies to go before we can even approach all that.
Sometimes I wish the shapeshifting aliens would just hurry up and take over the world.