My first viewing of Genocyber stands as one of the defining moments of my early anime fandom; not because I enjoyed or because it left a big impression on me, but because it scared the absolute shit out of me. Not because of the violence or adult themes (although they’re there), but because it was so totally different than everything else I had seen up until that point, while watching it I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. And that was pretty terrifying for a wussy 12 year old like me.
Koichi Ohata is tragically underrated as a director, not because he’s a good director (he isn’t), but because his old OAVs are incredibly entertaining. These days he’s stuck directing the semen-on-figure infomercial otherwise known as Ikkitousen, which is criminal considering the guy’s creative process for MD Geist was to design a cool suit of armor and then figure out a story. The commentary track on Central Park Media’s release of MD Geist gives a lot of insight into Ohata’s first OAV, and you’d be hard pressed not to come away liking the guy, as he seemingly bluffed his way into a career of making cartoons about monsters and robots and violence without really having any experience.
Unfortunately, Ohata can’t take all the credit for Genocyber as it’s based on a manga by Tony Takezaki (who also did the awesome Bubblegum Crisis spin-off manga, AD Police) and was produced by ARTMIC who made a habit of animating video awesomeness throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Genocyber also featured a gaijin on the staff in the form of Jan Scott-Frazier who’s story of breaking into the Japanese animation industry in the late 80s is worthwhile reading for any anime fan.
The common thread through Ohata’s early works is a cool power suit or monster, and Genocyber is no different. Although it’s never really explained what the Genocyber is, it’s said that it’s an organic weapon created by two sisters with psychic powers. One of those sisters, Elaine, doesn’t like being bossed around by the Kuryu corporation, who are attempting to use the Genocyber for evil (naturally) and so she escapes and befriends a young homeless boy. As mercenaries are sent out to capture Elaine, her friend winds up dead and she flips out, summoning the Genocyber and destroying Hong Kong. Whoops.
But let’s be honest here, no one watches an Ohata OAV for its story. While Genocyber certainly goes through the motions of having a meaningful plot, it’s overly complicated and just not that well written. It won’t insult you in the way that some anime might, but it’s really best to not think too much about it. The main draw with Genocyber is the design of the Genocyber itself, the gore and the action. If you ask for anything more than that you’ll wind up disappointed. While it’s a much better watch than plenty of it’s contemporary OAVs, it’s still the anime equivalent of a popcorn flick.
But despite its mediocre plot, Genocyber features some above-average production values. Not content to stick with plain animation, Genocyber plays the multimedia card by incorporating small bits of CG and live action as well. Neither looks particularly great, but they’re short and worth noting because it’s kind of quirky. On the other hand, the regular animation looks quite nice. Besides the well-done backgrounds and pastel-drawn flashback sequences, the animation for most of Genocyber is smooth and well done. When a decapitated nurse’s head falls off her neck and rolls along the floor, you can see the individual tendons snapping and the whole sequence is animated with a fluidity that puts modern anime to shame.
With its mixture of monsters, robots, gore, violence and synthy cock-rock music, Genocyber is one of the quintessential titles from the golden age of the OAV. It won’t stimulate you intellectually, but it’ll appeal to your 15-year-old self who isn’t so full of himself to deny that these kind of cartoons are awesome. There are plenty of other titles who offer the same things Genocyber does, but Genocyber does it with a charm and technical ability that a lot of OAVs couldn’t muster. There’s a lot of absurdity here, but it’s fun and the perfect kind of anime to enjoy with some friends who don’t take their Japanimations too seriously. There’s also a scene shot from inside of a vagina looking out, which might be a cinematic first.
It should be noted that the above praise is aimed only at the first episode, as the following four episodes of Genocyber are garbage. Save for the opening sequence of episode two, which features a group of children being shot to pieces by attack helicopters that’s incredibly well animated, the rest of the series just isn’t worth watching. All of the best parts of the first episode: the gore, the violence and the quirky mixed-media segments, were stripped out in favor of a far more generic storyline that attempts to turn Genocyber into some sort of superhero and protector of love.
The bottom line is that you should watch the first episode of Genocyber because it’s absurd and violent in a way that anime was back when it was fun. Don’t take it too seriously and you’ll do fine. But after you finish the first episode, put something else in because the rest just isn’t worth it.