I wrote one of the first negative reviews of a “mecha” anime on this blog. I will now write the second. Good Morning Althea, a one-shot Oriental Animation Video from 1987, is awful. The assumptive theory behind a one-shot is that a greater level of consistency can more easily be maintained from beginning to end of the story. The only consistency this OAV manages is a startlingly consistent level of boring and lack of creativity.
Looking at the admittedly sparse background data, maybe it’s not so startling after all. Maybe this lameness was preordained all along.
Good Morning Althea was directed by Hideki Tonokatsu. More on him later, but suffice to say it’s my educated guess that he is the reason what should be a fun, straightforward psychic robot violence romp turns out so dull and vanilla.
In this OAV’s staggeringly original far-flung future the human race has just finished up a long nasty war with the race of psychic aliens known as Crest. The Crest pretty much look like humans wearing the blue woad face paint Mel Gibson wore in Braveheart. Just like in Babylon 5, the humans end the war with the psychic aliens just in time for the both of them to face a new threat from a cybernetic alien invader, the Cfutz.
Althea, in true OAV-hoping-to-get-optioned-as-a-TV-series form, starts in medias res, though that’s probably too flattering a term for it. Medias res, which is just a big word for starting out in the middle of the story, suggests that the story eventually bends back to touch on the beginning, then loops forward to close off the knot at the chronological end. Althea does neither. The OAV opens with a chaotic attack on a human space battleship by the Cfutz. What’s this ship’s objective, why is it where it is, where did that Cfutz mothership come from, why do these crew members refer to each other the way they do? Hell if I know! Motherfucker, we’ve got a white-knuckled story to tell here, there’s no time! What exposition the viewer does get is received via character monologue, all of it extremely riveting and not at all detrimental to the pace in what is ostensibly an action cartoon. The Cfutz proceed to maul this battleship and incinerate most of its crew except a hard-bitten space marine with a cybernetic eye named Nikolai, a human-Crest hybrid crewman named Galory and the ship’s assigned psionics operator, who works out of a throne-like setup with a VR helmet resembling the one scraggly-bearded convict hero Denzel Washington wore in cyberpunk masterpiece Virtuosity. The psychic attempts to hack the Cfutz’s Gibson, only for the cybernetic foes to shoot back a stalactite of black ICE direct into his frontal cortex, ensuring a drooling death, but not before he informs Galory that the Cfutz mothership can still be taken out. The secret to doing so is a powerful Crest girl named Althea, kept in naked cryogenic stasis deep in the ship’s hold.
Yeah, the plot is terrible. Perhaps the only “good” thing is that it sets up the longest full frontal nude scene for a female Japanimation character I’ve ever seen outside of hentai, if that’s your sort of thing. Even if Althea was somehow picked up for adaptation into a longer-form narrative, there’s nowhere near the amount of original thought put into the writing necessary for it to have even been the most B-list of B-list 80s mecha anime. Just witness how many other, better science fiction or fantasy properties (Braveheart is high fantasy) I had to reference just to attempt to describe this thing.
Don’t get me wrong, “inspiration” that skirts the edge of plagiarism was always a large part of what made so many of those late-80s OAVs so great (Baoh the Visitor, Gall Force, Bubblegum Crisis, Lily C.A.T.; that was a good one, right?). But Good Morning Althea is too muddled to even plagiarize clearly.
As I alluded several paragraphs ago, it doesn’t help that the director’s chair is occupied by Hideki Tonokatsu. If you don’t recognize the name, I don’t blame you. Tonokatsu has a lot of flukes on his track record, like being an episode director for Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the Golgo 13 television series and director of at least one Lupin III TV special, along with some god awful horrors like Happy Lesson and Burn-Up Scramble, but for purposes of this review, focus on the fact that in 1987 he also storyboarded Red Photon Zillion, and eleven years later directed that vast experiment in attempting to animate pure boredom, Silent Moebius.
If you frequent the Colony Drop IRC channel at certain hours, you probably already know Silent Moebius is one of my bywords for mediocrity in Japantoons. This show manages to siphon just enough off other science fiction properties like Blade Runner and Bubblegum Crisis to be derivative, but leave out any aspects of aforementioned properties that are actually entertaining and/or of artistic merit. Tie it all up with the fact that Tonokatsu cannot choreograph, animate or film an action scene even if his life depended on it, and you have a good idea of what’s wrong with any “original” property this man directs.
Red Photon Zillion sounds like a great prospect at first — the first project worked on by the Tatsunoko Pro A-team that would go on to become Production I.G., with all the lavish budget such a pedigree entails — but then you actually watch it. The action scenes in this anime, which purports to be a straightforward action show, are strangely mundane and boring, unimaginatively choreographed and photographed. Blame could be placed on the fact that the entire project was a franchise tie-in for a Sega (thanks to Steve Harrison – Ed.) light-gun videogame, but come on. Tonokatsu drew the storyboards for Zillion, and what’s another anime with boring action scenes? Oh, that’s right, Silent Moebius. It’s a tenuous, circumstantial link, but as the Colony Drop copyediting desk (me) and ombudsman (me) have established, circumstance = irrefutable evidence and all rumors are truth.
Tonokatsu has the innate ability to figure out the dullest way to depict action and kinetic motion in any given scene. Good Morning Althea is no exception. Watch as fairly nice mechanical designs don’t mean a lick in the face of an inability to impart on them anything approaching a sense of dynamism. Make a game of it: take a drink every time a fight in Good Morning Althea ends with one of the combatants jumping into the air with their mecha and shooting a laser downwards through his foe’s head (Colony Drop is not liable for any physical or psychological injury you might incur in doing this).
Good Morning Althea belongs in the same ash heap of videotape cartoons as the PowerDoLLS OAVs. But at least PowerDoLLS had an excuse; it was a soulless slash-budget cash-in on a preexisting franchise. What’s your excuse, Althea? Wait, nevermind, I don’t want to know. I have more important things to worry about. Good night, Althea.