Dir. Koichi Ohata
Note that the version of the five part original video animation (OVA) I saw was with an English dub. Dubs for anime, unlike Italian genre films from the seventies, can drastically effect the actual work. Liberties were clearly taken with GenoCyber's script even without seeing a version with the original Japanese language track, and like a lot of reasons why dubs are notorious, it is mostly poor. It's not without flaws - it befits the first episode - but I would want to find the original version. Be ready, if watching the English dub version, for ridiculous acting performances and "fifteening", a controversial practice of English company Manga Entertainment, from their older days of existence, of adding swearing to the scripts to help boost the age ratings when the anime they sold was being certificated by the British film censors. I will have to deal with the dub in this review, but my greater concern is what GenoCyber is as a notorious anime.
Controversial, ultraviolent, and just a mess. GenoCyber is a mess finally seeing it, hearing of it like the many bogymen, infamous works, in anime's history for all these years, but actually viewing GenoCyber is more complicated than this. Its twisted, and for a lack of a better term, fucked up, but having to actually watch it is a drastically different experience than something merely infamous. The first part - the work splits into three stories between Part 1 (A New Life Form), Part 2 and 3 (Vajranoid Attack & Global War), and Part 4 and 5 (Legend of the City of the Grand Ark I & II) - definitely shows everything that made the anime infamous. Nihilistic, complete hatred for humanity, horrifying images of dismemberment and mass death, body horror taking advantage of sci-fi tropes' most gruesome potential, and the episode was made with barely a budget. Barely a budget. Events abruptly happen with no pace. Live action inserts were used. The animation looks aesthetically foul and scuzzy in a horrifically compelling way. And it does fascinate. In a world where nearly every nation plans to unite into one peaceful, global utopia, a corporation sticks out as a potential threat in its self ostracization from everyone else. Taking advantage of a scientist's discovery of "mind shadows", latent psychic abilities he could unlock through a machine he made called the Mandala, (yes, there are clear Buddhist and Eastern spiritual symbolism here), they have human beings, as young as children, as potential weapons. Very much like Akira (1988), potentially dangerous psychics. Two of them are the twin daughters of the original scientist. One, Diana, is one the side of the corrupt scientist in control of the knowledge, left from birth with a completely crippled body which leaves her as a head supported in an android frame. The other Elaine, on the loose in the city of future Hong Kong, is physically healthy but with the mind of a savage animal, befriend a young boy. The corporation ran by the scientist wants Elaine back, employing android mercenaries, his pack of masked psychotic minions, and her own sisters after her and to silence anyone in the way. But not only is Elaine a very dangerous psychic, but when the two sisters are together, they could become one and become the titular GeonCyber, a horrifying demonic creature that could wipe out anything and everything.
The first episode is a complete car crash of gore, disturbing images of viscera and exposed intestines, wrapped in such a misanthropic work in its message. But its compelling. Body horror with no self censorship. Actually missed by myself in the later episodes greatly, the director went further to make the gore disgusting by using images of actual wet clay being smashed for icky effect. Its only done twice or so from what I registered, but its an incredibly lurid effect that should have been used in the later episodes, the kind of reckless idea, on such a cheap production, that lifts it up from just being trash but something legitimately interesting. It has nihilism that actually feels like it's from the bowels of the creators', the director and co-writer Shô Aikawa, guts than that a cynical liberals going for a cheap pop, discomforting but driven by a narrative where two mangled young women come together, and their collected rage collects to created a being on the scale of Cthulhu. Koichi Ohata is already controversial for his creation MD Geist (1986), to some one of the worst anime ever made, along with its sequel, but a best seller in the US. Aikawa is incredibly twisted in just the few works he penned I've seen. He's managed, of all things, to become the scriptwriter for some of the Full Metal Alchemist franchise, an incredibly popular work with a large, mostly young audience, but the man also wrote the scripts for a lot of the Urotsukidoji series and Violence Jack (1986-1990), the former the most controversial work in anime in the West, the later only really known for its drastically censored English dub version, and from I've read and heard, probably for the better for your stomachs. His filmography has a lot of notoriously bad, ultraviolent or scuzzy work, but Aikawa has a sense of body horror, and surprising potent ideas of the manipulation of the body and political ideas that managed to get into even Full Metal Alchemist. It's not surprising that GenoCYber ended up as it did with just him, let alone with his co-writer and director. It's no way near the most disturbing anime in existence, when Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997) exists, but even if I am desensitised from a lot of this sort of thing, and frankly view it as merely animation on a cell not reality, it still leaves a gaping, nagging wound in your memory whether you see merit in it or not. With how this part ends, there was no real need for any other episodes. It could have stood up as one single, forty or minute piece of disturbing anime. It's a mess in quality control, but it its memorable and potent in what is seen. The only other work of the director I've seen before this was the TV series Burst Angel (2004), which was legitimately poor, all the most generic tropes, even in designing the female character designs meant to be lusted over, of current anime. That was the kind of anime that is truly bad. This episode, from the same director, is something uniquely itself even in its screwed up existence.
But more episodes were made. Parts 2 and 3 probably have some importance though. Part 2 contains the most controversial moment in the whole work where, in the first scene, the first actual scene, young kids are chain gunned into gristly, fully detailed body parts. Its tasteless, its shocking, never done in any other anime I've seen yet, but doesn't compare to the kind content in the rest of this story arc or in the first episode. It's no way near as disturbing for me, in a story where a prototype android eventually goes out of control and literally melds with the whole of a naval warship, as just having a character, seeing the atrocity around her, suddenly throw up in revulsion in detail. What really disturbs in the whole of GenoCyber, what really makes it justify its reputation, is the mood and ideas rather than the gristly results. Shô Aikawa's writing, when it's not garbage, is far more disturbing in what he implies with full detail or not. His work is very Cronenbergian even when he's in a completely different genre like with Hades Project Zeorymer (1988-1990), an anime which shows a legitimate best with how, for its flaws, the ideas and where he goes with them are truly compelling in a startling way. This story arc is still an worthy inclusion for this. How our hero - Elaine and Diane one single being who are rescued by the warship and set off the android when it see them as a threat - is actually a monster who can destroy everything. That no one is sin free, or those who are good people will be killed, even children, or go insane. That this series, for all its disgusting gore designed to only shock and its shonky look, still forces the viewer to think of the consequences of man's brutality. That its use of body horror, in visuals and the concepts, is immensely imaginative, and downright disgusting and disturbing because of the ideas behind them, especially with part 3. These two episodes do deserve to exist, because while weaker they still fit the tone of the first one and are just as interesting.
Which causes me to ask - what happened with parts 4 and 5, and why were they even made? Suddenly you are forced to watch legitimately awful pieces of anime. A drastic shift takes place. The GenoCyber has completely decimated all human populations in the world and is now gone, leaving all the clichés of anime of this era to repopulate the scorched planet in their tired flourishing. A utopian city exists which is actually a dictatorship, the writing suddenly losing all its distinct nihilism in favour of a generic tone without any real bite, where there's the corrupt rich, and the rebels in a terrorist group and a religious cult. Suddenly you're forced with two new protagonists, a young man and a woman, moving to the city and making their way barely as a knife throwing act and through street based mysticism. We're supposed to sympathise with them because she's blind and they're a couple about to be crushed by the evil city, not because they're of any interest. At this point, I cannot ignore the English dub. It was poor in areas before this arc and the added swearing was unnecessary, but some of it actually fit the tone. Here the dialogue readings, ignoring the tedious plot, are atrocious, with the voice actor for the main male protagonist performing some of the worst line delivery I have ever had to endure legitimately in a long while. It's up there with some of the worse I've ever encountered actually, clearly playing the character as everything people say about Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) at one point. This is why anime viewers like myself, let alone fans, eventually switched to Japanese dialogue with subtitles completely unless it wasn't available for certain releases or the English dub was actually exceptional. The entirety of this story arc, even though it's from the original manga the anime was adapting, is abysmal, a huge blot on the whole work. The blind woman encounters Diane through her mind, or an alternative world, befriends children living with the underground rebels, as you do in anime at this time, and eventually the obvious happens when GenoCyber awakes. You rise the memory of this arc from your mind and, if the whole work ever gets a DVD re-release, the only reason you would ever see this again is to check the disc(s) work. Suddenly it's not the original anime of the first few episodes but a completely different work, written by someone with no real grasp of what corruption means and merely using it as an excuse to bash the upper class and real life society in a cheap way to come up with a dystopia narrative. One, as in all the live action films that do it as well, that would put people off actually questioning their society and leaders because its trivialised to such an extent and because they don't want to suddenly become the characters in a crappy GenoCyber story arc. OVAs at this time in the nineties were also notorious for how abrupt their productions could be - anime works suddenly ending on a cliffhanger with no sequels ever to finish them, or with wildly different tonal shifts like here. Sometimes it's part of my fascination with these nineties anime, but here it's painful.
Altogether, anyone with a strong stomach should attempt viewing Part 1 of the work. It's not a series to watch on a loop, too bitter, too misanthropic in tone to digest except occasionally. Its indefensible, but it doesn't feel like a mere mindless piece of anime ultra violence that the whole medium was lumped into by newspaper tabloids. Parts 2 and 3 are also worthwhile, but if it was possible to remove Parts 4 and 5 from existence I would do such a task. It has to be beared in mind that this has content that would even startle people used to animated gore and depravity, but it's a creation of individuals with throats full of bile for humanity rather than making cynical jabs, for attracting peoples' simpleminded views of anti-humanity and selling product by using such naive views on corrupt society. As perfectly put by an anime reviewer, it's the equivalent of punk rock, shambolic in production, offensive but with vitriol and energy you wish was there more often.