- Urban Square: Chasing Amber (1986: Network, this is what Bandai Visual used to be called) 1/1 ep.
Staff and Background
This is an anime original production that was directed by Akira Nishimori who also directed AD Police (a personal favourite of mine) and 18if. However, the person who is really important in this production is Kazunori Ito. Ito is a fairly legendary screenwriter having done the .hack franchise, Dirty Pair, Ghost in the Shell, Maison Ikkoku, the Patlabor franchise, and Urusei Yatsura. As we’ll see, his influence on this production is very clear right from the get go.
Story and Characters
Our main character is Ryou, who is an aspiring screenwriter (I told you Ito’s influence would start right away). As our story begins we find him and his script being rejected and Ryou being told that “You should write about what you know”, aka get some life experience boy. So, he goes to a bar for a drink and he happens to see a pretty lady. He follows her out of the bar but misses her and thus we cut to a shot of him standing under a shopfront waiting out the rain. Suddenly a dude runs out of an alley and straight into him. The dude picks up Ryou’s stuff and gives it back to him, as well as slipping an envelope of his own. The dude then runs down another alley only to get shot. Ryou sees him gets shot and the shooter sees you. Like anyone with a brain Ryou legs it and the killer gives chase. After a while Ryou loses the killer but when he goes to the police the next day they don’t believe him. The rest of the OAV is spent with Ryou trying to figure out the mystery of the murder as well as avoiding being knocked off himself. Along the way he fights a kung fu master and teams up with a police detective and the pretty girl from earlier, Yuki. If this all sounds a tad cliché that is because it is and that is kind of the point. Ryou is very aware of all these clichés and how dumb they are and he isn’t afraid to point this out. He isn’t the only one, at one point Yuki describes one of the lines he uses to try and pick her up as “I’ve heard that line in some grade-B dramas I’ve seen”. The whole story is quite hacky in many ways but the Ryou and the story know that so everything is done with a knowing wink and a little nudge nudge. Sadly, for me this just wasn’t enough. I enjoyed of that stuff but it just went on to long for me. The joke wore thin after a while and so I was left watching something that was deliberately badly written, not much fun. Had it been 30mins instead it would have worked much better and that wouldn’t have been that hard to edit down to. The characters, much like the story, are deliberately clichéd with the most obvious being the cigarette chomping moustache wearing grizzled cop. But again, the show simply goes on too long and the joke wears thin. It is a shame really as it could have been a little golden nugget if not for this, but that extra 20 minutes killed it for me.
Audio and Visuals
The audio is a mixed bag with awful music and great voice acting. The music is the most generically boring 80s jazz thing, aka elevator music. But the voice acting is really good Nobuo Tanaka being my favourite as the grizzled detective. Kazuhiko Inoue was also great as Ryou. On the visual front things were actually quite good, but not in the way that you’d notice. There isn’t much fancy animation or hyper detail, the obvious signs of great visuals. Both the animation and detail are pretty decent but where it really shines is in its excellent cinematography and choreography. Clearly a lot of time was spent figuring out how fights should play out and where characters should be in relation to each other. It isn’t something you’ll pick up on unless you are specifically looking for it (I certainly didn’t till I saw someone else mention it and went back to try and spot it).
15-20 minutes shorter and it could have been a great little hidden gem. It has a fun premise, great voice acting, and really solid visuals. But the joke wears thin and the show lives and dies on the joke, all you are left with is something that is deliberately bad. It is a bit of a bummer really but oh well. Fun bonus fact, the fansubs are based on a script ANN’s Justin Sevakis wrote for the original VHS fansubs.
Final score: 4E