Years ago I was browsing a used book store in Ikebukuro and came across an old Super Famicom game with some interesting cover art– in the vein of the fantasy/sci-fi nature of the older Phantasy Star games with a vaguely O’Neill cylinder-looking thing on the back. Despite the cool cover, I had no interest in buying Super Famicom role-playing games and promptly forgot about it, until recently stumbling across it again while browsing tumblr. It turns out the games name was Gdleen, and was based on a light novel series written from 1989-1991 by Yuto Ramon. It was popular enough to spawn a one-shot OVA by the same name in 1990, and overwhelmed by an urge to indulge in a surely-mediocre OVA from years past, I decided to watch it.
There’s a lot of old OVAs that are never going to be released ever again; either because of complicated licensing issues, zero demand, or technical issues like damaged or lost masters. As much as we might like to jump on the rampant problem of digital piracy within anime fandom, this may be the one case where fansubbers are doing some legitimate good: namely, encoding and preserving old titles that were never going to be released again anyways. There’s still plenty out there that won’t be aved, though, and while the thought of all that anime being forever lost to history is a bit sad, it’s worth remembering that anime studios in the late 1980s produced a huge amount of titles, and plenty of those titles were complete crap. Companies like Discotek Media are fighting the good fight and releasing or rescuing a lot of older anime officially, but there’s plenty that’s worth leaving behind. Despite its charms, Gdleen probably falls into that category.
Ryu is a salaryman for the Akamaru corporation and when his spaceship crashes on an unexplored planet, he and his corporate robot companion MOS-01 have to figure out how to survive. Ryu looks a lot like the salaryman mascot for the Japanese porno booth company Kintaro that rents out porn videos and cubicles to watch them in, while MOS-01 looks like a PC-Engine CD-ROM^2 with arms and legs. They quickly encounter four-armed orcs, a bathing girl and some magic users in short succession. The bathing girl turns out to be a faerie with the hots for Ryu, and the orcs and magic users are rival tribes in the middle of a war. In the process of getting involved in the conflict and attempting to rescue his kidnapped faerie friend, Ryu discovers that the planet’s “God” is actually an ancient computer that’s been trying to keep the various tribes in check through sustained warfare.
There’s nothing particularly original in Gdleen, everything from the ancient computer, to the unassuming human turned into a hero feels like something you’ve seen before. The first half of the OVA tries to work in a lot of humor, but it’s decidedly simple stuff that’ll likely only appeal to you if you really like pee gags (there are two within the first 15 minutes) and that always-enjoyable joke about misunderstood cross-cultural courtship gestures that anime creators seem so fond of. At best, the relationship between Ryu and his corporate robot brings out decent some jokes about the over-worked nature of salaryman, with MOS-01 regularly admonishing Ryu for not finishing reports on the planet’s resources. I’d like to give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were trying to make a statement about the oppressive salaryman lifestyle, but it seems more likely that they were just playing on some pretty common cliches.
Gdleen reminded me a lot of El Hazard, which isn’t exactly criticism or praise, just a statement. Like El Hazard, Gdleen is dumb and unoriginal, but it’s also charming in a very bland sort of way. Ryu is an undeveloped salaryman character, but at least he isn’t spineless milquetoast and seems more assertive than the typical anime protagonist who finds himself in a new world with women fawning over him. The animation is competent but entirely unambitious, save for a cheesy use of an actual photograph. The designs could just as easily be found in any number of other contemporary OVAs. It probably says something that the most striking design choice was the guy in a boring salaryman suit, although I kind of liked the four-armed orcs with Predator jowls.
As was typical for these sorts of things, the OVA only covers the very beginning of a much longer story and, unsurprisingly, the rest of it was never tackled in animation. While you could certainly do worse in the vein of sci-fi bubble era OVAs, Gdleen is so distinctively middle-of-the-road that I’m not sure why you’d bother with it. There isn’t a whole lot here to hate, but there’s also absolutely nothing to love.
Now, about that debate over light novels being the scourge of modern anime…?