--Don Huffman as Banba, Burn Up!
Remember when people didn't watch anime for the pretty colors and the boobs? Remember when things like cars, trucks, and robots were hand-drawn instead of computer-generated because computers couldn't do that yet? And remember when anime girls actually gave you wood? If you're one of those people, then "Burn Up!" is the anime for you. Released in 1991 at the peak of the anime boom in Japan, "Burn Up!" is a 50-minute one-shot OVA that follows the adventures of three traffic cops (Maki, Reimi, and Yuka) as they go on an illegal undercover assignment to break up a slave trading ring operating in Tokyo. When Yuka gets kidnapped by the slave traders, it's up to Maki and Reimi to break every protocol in the book by getting her back in a no-holds-barred, balls-to-the-wall battle with the white slave trader Samuel McCoy and his mansion full of gun-toting thugs.
Sound stupid by today's standards, doesn't it? But that's the thing about "Burn Up!" that I love--it's unpretentious fun. This OVA knows it's nothing but an excuse to get sexy anime girls in skin-tight body armor and have them blow McCoy and his army to kingdom come. And I love it for that. It's a reflection of a time in Japan when producers were taking chances on ambitious animators and their projects, and "Burn Up!" was most likely one of them. It's attractive characters (designed by Kenjin Miyazaki), the 80's-style mechanical animation (for the cars, bikes, tanks, and the like), the production design (by Gasho Tano), and the bright color palette all speak to the glory days of anime when the creativity was flowing and everything wasn't based off a manga or PC game.
With that said, there are some awesome action sequences here, especially the opening chase between Maki, Reimi, Yuka, Kenji (Maki's boyfriend), Banba (Reimi's "potential" boyfriend), and a red BMW filled with three McCoy gangsters and one female hostage. The shading techniques in the animation are just brilliant, the screaming guitar music (by none other than Kenji Kawai) gets your heart pumping, and the way Maki's bike slices its way through the cars on the interstate has to be seen to be believed. And my personal favorite part of it all are the old-school sound effects that would perpetuate many an anime show for years to come.
If you're going to watch "Burn Up!", please watch the Japanese version, featuring Yumiko Shibata as Maki, Miki Ito (of "Project A-Ko" fame) as Reimi, and Kumiko Nishihara as Yuka. Norio Wakamoto plays the devilish McCoy, while Sayaka (one of McCoy's slave girls) is played by Yuri Shiratori. All of them are perfectly cast to their roles and give each line the correct meaning and inflection. These seiyuu (along with the entire cast) were very popular throughout the 80's and 90's, and one of the best parts of watching "Burn Up!" in Japanese is going "Hey, I recognize that voice!" whenever these actors speak.
The English dub of "Burn Up!" is from 1995 and was ADV Films' first English dub, which introduced everyone to their mainstays Tiffany Grant (as Maki), Amanda Winn (as Reimi), and Kimberly Yates (as Yuka). Also in the English cast is Milton Lawrence as Kenji (who actually does a first-rate job, given the script) and Rob Mungle (of "Guy" and "Gunsmith Cats" fame) as Captain Hashima. The problem with the English dub is its age (the 90's were infamous for unnecessary swearing and ridiculous rewrites), and the fact that Amanda Winn is miscast as the soft-spoken Reimi. Tiffany Grant plays Maki well enough, but most of what she does involves screaming, roaring, and being generally pissed off (and generally missing the point of Maki to begin with). Kimberly Yates suffers from a poorly-written script that turned Yuka into an airhead from the get-go and didn't give her much room to act. All three of these ladies would go on to do bigger and better things, and for that all of otaku-dom (or me, at least) is eternally grateful.
Unfortunately, both editions of "Burn Up!" (the original ADV Films release & the Sentai Filmworks re-release) are out of print, so your best bet to snag a decent copy would be off the Amazon marketplace. If you're lucky, you might end up with the ADV Films version, which included a bonus previews disc that showcased their latest anime acquisitions. Even if you're not, you've still got "Burn Up!", an anime that simply entertains the pants off the viewer without throwing their brain through the wringer and their heart under a bus (like most anime titles today). I'm all for a story about love, romance, and the eighteen beautiful girls that are vying for my hand in marriage (yeah, right!), but sometimes I like to watch something that's actually fun and doesn't require that I sign over my soul to a shinigami in a note book. If that's the kind of anime you're looking for (and you appreciate the days when anime didn't come in a "complete season" pack for 20 bucks), then "Burn Up!" is the anime for you.
Here's a link to the original ADV Films VHS trailer for "Burn Up!" back in 1995. It features some of the awesome music from the soundtrack and some cool scenes from the anime.