We here at Colony Drop Inc. spend a lot of our Internet Time arguing against the grain of anime fandom’s most heinous misconceptions: We’ve shown how anime blogging is a complete shit pile of incompetent dorks, examined how moé is so much formulaic crap, exposed Professional Creepster Danny Choo as the cheddar-stacking creep he is, and we’ve taken a look at how Akihabara might not be the coolest place in the world.
Today we’re going to do something entirely different and talk about how M.D. Geist really isn’t that bad.
But before we get into dispelling the belief that it is anywhere remotely close to being the worst anime ever made, we need to talk about the man who created M.D. Geist: Koichi Ohata.
Ohata got his start as a mechanical designer working on early 80s mecha TV shows like Light-Speed Electro-God Albegus and Super High Speed Galvion, the latter series completely unmemorable but for the fact there was a robot in it called the Breast Chaser. Another title he worked on during this era was Video Warrior Lezarion, a series even Steve Harrison probably doesn’t remember. The point here is that these were some seriously C-level shows. Ohata wasn’t a Shinji Aramaki and he sure as fuck wasn’t no Kunio Okawara.
But at some point shortly after working on these TV series, Ohata was allowed to create an OAV based on a design he had come up with for a mechanical power suit. The 24-year-old artist was given a surprising amount of control over the project, although the slightly more veteran Hayato Ikeda was brought in officially as director for appearances, it was Ohata that did the actual directing. The result was M.D. Geist, a sloppy, amateurish production with little concern for pacing, storyline or logic.
It’s worth noting the lunacy in M.D. Geist’s creation story since it underlines an important difference between the anime production world of the 1980s and of today. With the Bubble Era money flowing and barrier to entry lowered by OAV tapes, unproven nobodies like Ohata were (at times) given free reign to create cartoons about whatever the fuck they wanted. Most of the OAVs of this era were (admittedly) complete crap, made by unknowns who wouldn’t hit their stride until years later, if ever. Many were cartoons made without a committee vetting process, without concern for merchandising possibilities or long-term doujinshi appeal. The result was an incredibly free creative environment lavished upon relative unknowns, even if they typically squandered that freedom on shots of breasts or painstakingly detailed explosions of human heads.
M.D. Geist is, if nothing else, a poster child for an amazing, unique era in Japanese animation that not only provided a starting point for fans-turned-professionals coming off the Mobile Suit Gundam boom but also helped pave the way for the rising popularity of anime in the West. M.D. Geist is not the best OAV of the 1980s, but it may be the perfect encapsulation of the crazy production environment of that era.
Contrast this with modern anime production, where an almost scientific level of precision is used to aim a production at exactly the right niche, or in the case of titles like Macross: Frontier, to include enough characters to service as many niches as possible. The result is a lot of titles that look exactly the same, because they’re all trying to appeal to the same dwindling portion of nerds who are actually willing to purchase overpriced DVDs, Blurays and character/mecha merchandise.
To be clear, there’s no denying that M.D. Geist was aimed at an otaku market. It, and almost every other OAV of the era, had a high enough price point to keep away anybody but the most dedicated fans. But the abuse of cliches likely had more to do with inexperienced storytellers than it did an overt attempt to play to the tastes of a specific niche.
M.D. Geist raised itself from the rubble of mediocre 80s sci-fi OAVs by catching the eye of Central Park Media’s founder John O’Donnell, who brought it over to the U.S. under his U.S. Manga Corps imprint. It was one of the earliest anime releases to break into Billboard’s Top 10 video charts, showing that if nothing else, it had the potential to appeal to the teenage male demographic that dominated the Western anime market of the 1990s, much to the chagrin of the more “upscale” self-proclaimed Western otaku of the time. But mostly they were all too busy thinking Tenchi Muyo was the greatest shit ever to notice.
Taken in that teenage viewer context, there’s little with which to fault M.D. Geist. Basic tenets of storytelling and film theory are thrown out in favor of decapitations, excessive blood spurting, dudes kicking ass in power suits, plenty of explosions and even some boobs. The plot is simple enough to sum up in a single sentence: A bio-engineered super soldier escapes from his orbital prison and subsequently kills a lot of people, then he kills a bunch of robots. If there is one aspect of the OAV we could certifiably deem as “good,” it would be the mechanical designs, which serve as a reminder that Ohata is a far better illustrator than storyteller.
M.D. Geist is the regurgitated grey matter of a 24-year-old man who likely grew up with a steady diet of Japanese animation and American action and horror films, filtered through a lens of amateurish incompetence and naivety. As such, it can potentially appeal to anyone with enough self-esteem to admit that they once too loved this goofy, violent shit when they were young. On the other hand, if your head is far enough up your own anus to proclaim that Cloud is the best segment of Robot Carnival, you might agree with Anime News Network’s Justin Sevakis who wrote that it was “hard for me to fathom how someone can see MD Geist and consider it good, or even watchable.”
The inconvenient truth here is that M.D. Geist is incredibly watchable; provided you go into it with the right mentality, a couple 6-packs and (ideally) a couple of friends. It is, like every Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal film ever made, not something you’ll want to watch by yourself unless it happens to be on TV, but can be immensely enjoyable after putting a couple back in the company of good people. It is undeniably a movie to laugh at, but at some point we’re left to wonder that if a film is objectively bad but continues to entertain people 25 years after it was produced, is it actually all that bad? At what point (and I’m paraphrasing a fellow Colony Drop writer here) should basic enjoyment, regardless of context, become the only necessary criteria with which to evaluate a film?
M.D. Geist‘s position in Western anime fandom is not proportional to the actual merit of the work, as there are handfuls of similarly mediocre-yet-enjoyable OAVs of the era that could have easily occupied the same much-maligned niche it occupies. Much of this is thanks to O’Donnell, who apparently liked M.D. Geist so much he licensed Geist’s power suit design as the logo for U.S. Manga Corps and helped to finance both a Director’s Cut of the original OAV and a sequel. Once again, the OAV shines as as an example of a different, but equally bizarre era when anime was an up-and-coming commodity and English-speaking people thought it would be a good idea to fund a sequel to a direct-to-video Japanese cartoon that was at the time nearly a decade old.
Thanks to O’Donnell, M.D. Geist became a regular sight for anime fans long after they had moved on to newer titles, as every U.S. Manga Corps video began with the same terrible computer-rendered intro featuring Geist. CPM Manga released an original English-language comic based on the OAV, and O’Donnell continued to lavish attention on the original OAV with multiple DVD releases. Through O’Donnell’s persistent promotion, M.D. Geist became an anomaly: an anime franchise that continued to have a presence in the U.S. due largely to the efforts of a single individual.
Plenty of anime titles are worse, even among 80s OAVs it isn’t hard to find titles that are far, far more wretched than Geist. But aside from beer-fueled entertainment value, Geist‘s charm comes from the bizarre story that unfolded both before and after production. Twenty-five years later it has remained a topic of discussion, long after its peers have faded into obscurity. At worst it’s a film you should watch once, at best it’s an interesting footnote in anime history. In any case, it isn’t really that bad.
While animating the dreadful sequel, Ohata went back and added a few new scenes for the Director’s Cut in an attempt to improve the coherency. He was largely unsuccessful, but one of the scenes left unchanged features Geist stabbing a gentleman in the face with a knife that has a grenade attached to it. If that sounds like the kind of shit that might appeal to you, then you’d probably like M.D. Geist.