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  Prefectural Earth Defense Force More awesome than Steve Austin
Year: 1986
Director: Kenji Hayakawa
Stars: Hiromi Tsuru, Shuichi Ikeda, Tessho Genda, Toru Furuya, Hideyuki Tanaka, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Keiko Han, Kohei Miyauchi, Masaharu Sato, Rica Fukami, Takeshi Aono, Toshiko Fujita, Koji Totani, Kozo Shioya
Genre: Comedy, Animated, Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Foreign exchange student Kami Santin (voiced by Hirotaka Suzuoki) escapes the secret lab where he was transformed into a super-powerful cyborg. Mad scientists Dr. Inoue (Kohei Miyauchi) and Dr. Mafune (Koji Totani) are determined to recapture him on behalf of the Telephone Pole Group. Led by maniacal milk enthusiast Chilthonia Bunzaemon Kisoya Jr. (Shuichi Ikeda) the nefarious organization seeks world-domination but opt to conquer a small prefecture in Japan for starters. Having deduced the TPG are actually a high school student group, inept but idealistic schoolteacher Mr. Roberti (Hideyuki Tanaka) forms the Prefectural Earth Defense Force. Students-turned-would-be world-defenders blonde mulleted Morita (Toru Furuya), beefy bodybuilder Takei (Tessho Genda) and token girl-who-doesn't-actually-do-anything Akiko Ifukube (Rica Fukami) pit their lack of wits and resources against the TPG's army of ninjas led by pretty pink-haired Captain Baradaki (Hiromi Tsuru) and hulking brute 'Scope' Tsurusaki (Takeshi Aono). Both teams try to recruit Kami Santin but succeed only in enraging the already aggrieved cyborg who, with his in-built hi-tech arsenal, chases them around campus.

Based on a 1983 manga by Koichi Yasunaga, Prefectural Earth Defense Force was another early script by Kazunori Ito, the screenwriter behind such later groundbreaking anime as Patlabor (1989) and Ghost in the Shell (1995) as well as Shusuke Kaneko's kaiju eiga reboot the Gamera trilogy. As was the case with Ito's earlier Urban Square (1985) this is a pastiche that pokes affectionate fun at the clich├ęs and excesses of a certain genre. Only whereas Urban Square was a subtly wry and knowing parody of Hollywood action thrillers, Prefectural Earth Defense Force is an uproarious send-up of every motif in SF anime from the preceding decade. Despite opening on an eerie closeup of an eyeball clamped open A Clockwork Orange-style the comically overwrought credit sequence set to a fist-pumping J-rock theme song ("This is science fiction, yeah! It's mystery and romance thrill me!") immediately shifts the tone into frantic farce. It is the Airplane! (1980) of SF anime with a similarly zany, anything-for-a-laugh, dozen-gags-per-minute approach, all the funnier for being played as deadpan melodrama by the seasoned voice cast.

Much like the early works of fan-favourites Studio Gainax, Ito mines a very high school SF geek style of referential humour. The forty-nine minute original animated video is broken into episodes of a bogus ongoing television show complete with chapter titles and includes throwaway references to obscure Japanese genre icons like Rainbow Man and Varan the Unbelievable (1958) (the least heralded of all classic kaiju characters) and mainstream western pop culture. Early on mad scientist Mafune reminds Inoue he promised their cyborg would be "more awesome than Steve Austin", a reference to the camp classic Seventies TV show The Six Million Dollar Man. While Ito's central conceit, that the good and evil super teams are just like any ordinary high school or college club or student organization, has comic potential the plot devolves into typical cheesecake humour (Baradaki is assigned to pose as a provocative schoolgirl to seduce a not-entirely-unwilling Roberi) and musical chase montages straight out of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

If not as multilayered or inspired as the similar Project A-KO (1987) the brisk story is good-natured and consistently amusing with romantic undertones that are rather sweet. Eventually the villains (who are not really such bad guys) land their own cyborg in the form of Dr. Inoue's daughter Yuko (Toshiko Fujita) who immediately bursts into tears since being half-robot means she can't get married! Yuko vents her rage on the hapless TPG ("You've got a lot of nerve turning me into a cyborg!") who, parodying a typical sentai plot trope, kidnap and torture her father (hilariously as it turns out) forcing her into a nonsensical fight with Kami Santin. Even as Prefectural Defense Force parodies the ludicrous excesses of Eighties SF anime the animators lovingly render every cyborg transformation, hi-tech weapon and superhero battle. As well as spoofing the genre comedy OAVs like this gave animators the chance to show off their skills and secure work on more serious productions, many of which played deadly straight conventions mercilessly sent up here.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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