Dir. Tetsuo Imazawa
Film #8 of the ‘Worst’ of Cinema
[Note= The version of Psychic Wars I viewed was an English dub only copy. I inform you of this because anime has a very complex history with its English dubbing. Older dubs could change the script to the point of changing the entirety of the plot, and/or be incredibly awful even for great anime. Even now English dubbing tends to divide anime fans despite the fact that great ones do exist. Part of a mini-collection by Manga Entertainment called The Collection, the out-of-print British DVD of Psychic Wars is the only one I know of that exists except for a US disc that, frankly, would probably be not worth trying to get hold of. Bare this in mind with this review.]
Psychic Wars is awful. I chose it because it was on my list of the worst works I have seen over the years, the truly worst, the 1/10s which is a very selective list that not any film or anime can get on. On the rewatch, it is not justifiable to have it on that list still, because it’s merely a waste of time, not abominable, not one of the worst viewing experiences I’ve ever had. It is a testament to a time that, with rare exceptions now, Japanese anime in the West was an abstract entity, not because of the content, but because it could exist in a variety of viewing forms. The Original Video Animations, the OVAs, straight-to-video animation which had (usually) higher budgets and freedom for creativity than television, are the main reason for this when they were still being made in large amounts before the 2000s. Their variety of lengths, not just their stories, altered the material they contained; they could be six episodes long, or just thirty or so minutes long, with most I’ve seen being around forty to sixty minutes in length. By themselves, separate from their original source material, or if they were original stories and concepts, they were small bursts of images and narrative that either left you wanting more, or if they were convoluted or had no closed endings, left you baffled by what you had seen. I was too young to grow up with this sort of short length anime being released in the West for the first time, and while I can find many of them on DVD or on YouTube (or even on videotape despite the lack of access to a working VHS player), I wish we still lived with this type of anime being made one after another, both because it allowed for creativity, and trained younger anime directors and let them experiment, but because as well I find delight, perverse and sincere, in the idea that a random forty minute animation could suddenly materialise on a videotape shelf or in a rental store and dumbfound the person who viewed it. That said...I am not going to defend Psychic Wars even if it conjured up these thoughts for me viewing it again. I would defend other ‘bad’ short form anime like it, but not Psychic Wars itself.
Adapted from a sci-fi novel by Yasuaki Kadota, a surgeon finds himself pulled into a war for mankind’s survival when he treats an old woman, becoming imbued with supernatural powers and pulled towards prehistoric Japan to protect human kind from being wiped out of existence by a species of demons. Its short length makes Psychic Wars far more breakneck than the plot needs to work; while I only know of the novel from this anime, to attempt to cram any elaborate work in such a short running time, a common occurrence in anime, is never going to faithfully translate the original story. The results can be compelling – as with the feature length adaptation of X (1996) for me – but for Psychic Wars it’s not. Its pacing for such a short anime is problematic, sputtering from moments of exposition to an action scene in the first half without any sense of where it should be going, and ping-ponging back and forth through the narrative’s time period without a gracefulness to make such a fragmented structure work. It is cheaply made on a low budget too, which is a further problem. There are attempts to make it interesting – artistic looking sequences and a CGI vortex effect that amused my obsession with dated computer effects from the early nineties – but this crippling flaw is worsened by the really generic plot that undermines the anime’s chances of being entertaining. What could be a stylistic flourish, such as the protagonist taking on a group of horseback riding demons in prehistoric Japan that is done in sepia, could have been because of budget constraints, and while I am just as fascinated by bad animation if it looks interesting, Psychic Wars hasn’t really got a lot of moments to make it worth watching again. This is pretty much the same with the plot too as mentioned. There are moments of unintentional humour, seemingly about to promise a better anime when the surgeon first becomes Super Saiyan and fights a demonic tumour by punching it repeatedly with his fists, but there’s little to really attach myself to in this in terms of kitsch or quality. As much as I like that there was a period where anime like this snuck onto Western store shelves frequently before my time, there are plenty of other OVAs and short length non-sequiturs that far more better or jaw dropping in their content.
Normally when I watch anime that I can only view with the English dub, I try to judge them separate from the dubbing, but the one for Psychic Wars is awful, which I admit to having produced a laugh from me once or twice throughout the viewing. If the end credits are right, it was recorded in a studio in Cardiff, Wales, which does mean that there’s a scene where a demon general not only has to try and go forward with the plan to exterminate mankind but also hide his unexpected English accent, trying to speak in an American one like almost all British made dubs attempted to, which, while could be seen as cruel mocking by myself, is still amusing and does not let the hook the poor dubbing job. The whole anime, alongside the out-of-print series The Collection that Manga Entertainment released on DVD (and I own a few of), reminds me of a concept that the British company had, before it failed and they became a legitimately great company now, of releasing material that could be ‘beer and curry anime’, titles that anyone would watch on a Friday night with the foodstuffs mentioned, with friends, like they would with an action film. It does happen, but the concept of making anime fully mainstream, not just at the edge of it as it is now, has yet to be obtained. Manga Entertainment once thought that releasing violent and sexually explicit works, to separate anime from children’s animation, a paradox as anime is both for children and adults depending on the material, would work but it ended up making anime look like violent cartoon porn to British tabloids. Anime like Psychic Wars, released before I was old enough to become interested in Japanese animation, is no longer released in vast quantities here as a younger fanbase of teenagers make up most of the market. Only Studio Ghibli, in its own bubble, has really succeeded in breaking into the mainstream because of the quality of the work. Manga Entertainment could still reach their goal, picking up one-off and feature length animation that would be a lot more assessable for a non-anime fan to get into instead of a TV series, but even the concept of ‘beer and curry anime’ needs quality works to be released, and to be promoted greatly, to make the idea work. A bad action film is a bad action film, even with korma in your stomach, and if a good one is lost in the shuffle of new releases, nothing will succeed. As much as I got a masochistic kick revisiting Psychic Wars, you need good anime with English dubs of merit to succeed in reaching the mainstream. Great, accessible anime still exists but it gets lost in the crowd, and is not helped by the anime industry’s increasing pandering to the questionable tastes of die-hard Japanese, and Western, anime otaku. What sane person would watch some of the anime made now, especially those with gratuitous panty shots of animated, underage schoolgirls, with a chicken ṭikka masālā in one hand, a Carlsberg in the other and a smile on their face?
|Probably one of the less expected ways to fight cancer.|