Monday, December 24, 2012

Movie Monday #17: Sukeban Deka

"Like I said...the outside world basically sucks."
--Amanda Winn as Saki Asamiya, Sukeban Deka


Whenever you watch anime, you have to expect the unexpected.  A futuristic cop drama could suddenly turn into a magical girl show and back again in the blink of an eye.  But Sukeban Deka, the story of a teenage detective who uses a government-issue yo-yo as her weapon, probably takes the prize for the most unexpected (and unappreciated) anime out there.

Based on a shoujo manga by Shinji Wada from the 1970's, Sukeban Deka (which roughly translates as "Delinquent Detective") is the story of Saki Asamiya, a lavender-haired teenage girl sitting in a prison cell for causing trouble at her school.  A man referred to only as The Dark Investigator offers her a deal--she can work for the police as an undercover teenage detective, infiltrating high schools and fighting crimes the police normally couldn't reach...or her mother, on death row for murdering her husband, will be executed.  As long as Saki agrees to be a detective, her mother's execution will be postponed until she can be set free.

Saki has no choice but to agree, and soon she's back on her old stomping grounds--Takaoka High School.  Unfortunately, she's not top dog anymore--the three Mizuchi sisters are the queens of this school.  Emi Mizuchi is famous for her art, but it turns out that all she does is copy other artists' work and pretend that it's her own.  Ayumi Mizuchi is treated like royalty and pretends to be very lady-like, but in fact runs a righteous extortion ring and drug trade within the school.  Reimi Mizuchi is president of the student council, but yeah, she's evil too--she ends up brainwashing all the Takahoka students into doing whatever she pleases.

Add into the mix a cute but personality-free girl named Junko who paints like an angel and keeps getting her shirt ripped off, along with Saki's would-be boyfriend, Sampei, and you have the ingredients for your a-typical early 1990's high school drama...or do we?  Sukeban Deka has some familiar school drama moments, such as the awkward first meeting between Saki and Sampei (where he declares her his goddess) and Saki and Sampei hanging out at Junko's apartment, but that's not the thrust of its two forty-five minute episodes.  The real meat of this series is when Saki starts striking back against the Mizuchi sisters and their illegal activities, using her indestructible yo-yo, fighting skills, and street smarts to dish out plenty of payback.

Even though this OVA only has two episodes, the hero characters grow, adapt, and change at a satisfying pace.  Saki turns from a wild school yard brawler to a responsible teenage detective and heroine.  Sampei shaves his head (at Saki's request--you have to see it to believe it) and is a real help to Saki in the end, along with being a good friend.  Saki's police liason, Kyoichiro Jin, is one of those long-haired bishonen detective guys who probably inspired the characters in "Fake," but takes on the role of keeping Saki grounded in reality when her anger gets the better of her.  Even Saki's principal, Numa, gets in on the action, agreeing to help the girl he once hated.

And let's not forget that there's plenty of fighting, too, and the majority of it involves Saki and her yo-yo.  Anime is known for its dramatic poses, long sweeps of the hands and feet (before a punch or kick), the shouting of attack names before you use that attack, and the colorful backgrounds that appear behind the characters as they perform said attacks.  Sukeban Deka uses all of these mainstays in its fight scenes, but not to the point to overkill.  Director Takeshi Hirota knew exactly which notes to hit on the anime keyboard, and he hits them all just right.

The character designs were adapted from the original manga by Nobuteru Yuki, who also worked on Cleopatra D.C., another favorite of mine.  Nobuteru's large eyes, long faces, and shoujo leanings all add a nice touch to the proceedings here and give Sukeban Deka a unique style that it can call its own.

Takashi Takaomi's music is a combination of synthesizers, electric guitars, some nice bass, and occasional orchestral interludes that accent each character's struggle to escape the hell their school has become.  The battle themes are particularly memorable, especially the one where Saki busts into the arcade and starts raising all kinds of hell with her karate moves and her yo-yo.

I've watched both versions of Sukeban Deka (dubbed & subtitled) and, oddly enough, I prefer the dubbed version, which features the talents of old ADV Films mainstays Amanda Winn, Tiffany Grant, Kurt Stoll, Jason Lee, and Rob Mungle.  Amanda Winn landed the role of Saki Asamiya, and she was born to play this part.  The hard edge to her voice, her screams of frustration, and her comedic timing couldn't be better.  Tiffany Grant plays Junko, and while she does an admirable job, there's little she could do to elevate this character.  Kurt Stoll takes Sampei's wackiness and off-the-wall humor to the umpteenth level and makes this character a lot more entertaining than he was in the Japanese version.  Jason Lee and Rob Mungle star as some of the heavies employed by Ayumi Mizuchi to keep Saki in line.  Even ADV producer & dub director Matt Greenfield gets in on the action as some of the obnoxious background characters.

If you're expecting an anime version of the live-action Sukeban Deka movies released by Tokyo Shock,  then you'd best look elsewhere.  The Sukeban Deka OVA remains faithful to Shinji Wada's original manga and gives us a presentation that's definitely suited for the anime style.  But don't let that deter you from picking this up, because this show has it all--action, romance, angst, drama, humor, and tragedy, all in a neat two-episode package.   So if you're in the mood for an early 90's anime flashback or just a quick, entertaining watch, look no further than Sukeban Deka.

(And here's a fan trailer someone made for Sukeban Deka, if you can get past the thirty seconds of random intro clips...)


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