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8 Man After
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

The original 8 Man is a series I hold near and dear to my heart. Mostly I enjoy the cool costume design of 8 Man himself, and the fantastic art of the original comics by Kazumasa Hirai and Jiro Kuwata. I also like the cartoon; not only do I enjoy the original Japanese version, but I like the classic English dub, featuring Jerry Burke hamming it up as only 60s-era voice actors could as 8 Man. 8 Man was great fun, a story about a special "secret" policeman with a cyborg body who fought a variety of criminals, from the standard gun-toting thugs to dastardly foreign spies, with robots of their own. 8 Man would ordinarily defeat his opponents through a variety of tactics, often involving cool shots of him running fast and using his own detached left arm as a close-combat weapon.

However, the original 8 Man was badly-animated and hasn't aged very well, so it's understandable that the folks at Act. Co. thought that a new version was in order back in 1993. But 8 Man After isn't really a standard OVA remake, like Hurricane Polymar or the Gatchaman OVAs. It's actually a direct sequel to the original, featuring 8 Man's old girlfriend, Sachiko, and the ever-cranky Chief Tanaka. 8 Man himself, whose real name was Hachiro Hazuma, disappeared years ago; Sachiko agonizes over his disappearance (she'd just learned his secret identity when he vanished), and the local police just try to do what they can.

But they can't do much. The entire city is being over-run by the cheesily-named "cyber-junkies"-- small-time criminals with cyborg arm and leg enhancements, who rely on an addictive stimulant drug to control their technological implants. This is one thing that doesn't quite add up about 8 Man After-- it may boast some of the cast of the original, but the setting is clearly far-removed. The original 8 Man took place in Japan, but this is clearly meant to be America-- the cop cars are Ford Crown Victorias, everything is in English, and the local football team plays American football, not soccer.

Instead of the genial, clean-cut Hazuma as protagonist, however, 8 Man After is about an ill-tempered private investigator named Mitsuru Hazama. (Their names are close, but not the same.) He's investigating a variety of cases; not only is he tracking an escaped cybernetic scientist named Schmitt, he's trying to find a missing washed-up football player named O'Connor, as a favor to O'Connor's son, Sam. (Sam himself is annoying; he's an urban black kid, but an urban black kid according to the Japanese, which means he wears really ugly clothes, sports a backwards baseball cap, constantly listens to rap music, and insists on calling Hazama "Zam." The crappy performance of the dub actor doesn't help.)

Hazama has a chance encouter with Sachiko, who's somehow reminded of dear old Hazuma by him. (She herself only seems a few years older than she was in the original series-- yet another inconsistency.) His investigations soon get him in trouble with the local cyber-hoods, and he gets taken out. Just like in the original 8 Man, however, he's resuscitated in a new cyborg body by a mysterious, benevolent scientist, and given the task of acting as a secret one-man section of the police force.

But even this 8 Man isn't as cool or noble as the original. He doesn't look as good, first of all-- he's a lot more chunky and robotic-looking. He also doesn't constantly meet with Chief Tanaka, like the original did, and has a couple of system bugs that make him very dangerous to both the criminals he stalks and the people he's trying to protect. Will he be able to topple the pyramid of crime weighing down on the city? Or will he submit to the same dark forces that drove away Hazuma, the original 8 Man?

This new production of 8 Man doesn't really succeed at all, for a variety of reasons. First of all, it's dark and extremely violent, which doesn't really suit the superhero trappings of 8 Man at all. Kenichi Onuki's character designs are angular and unattractive, and the production values really aren't up to par for an OVA series. 8 Man's blinding speed is rendered in a rather unimpressive fashion, and always accompanied by the same annoying whoosh sound effect, used over and over again. The dub is the usual silly Carl Macek fare, though it should be noted that he didn't get the music rights, which means more bad background music, of the "press the demo key on the keyboard" variety. Only the dub is included on this typically bare-bones Image release, which is also annoying.

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It doesn't end there. Cultural details are also rather poorly researched, particularly the name of the local football team-- The Black Fighters, which wouldn't be so ridiculous if it weren't for the fact that most of them seem to be black people. Oops! To top things off, the production also keeps reusing the same animation of 8 Man running over and over again, which is just like the original 60s animation! But that's not a good thing, in this case.

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These complaints are only symptons of 8 Man After's biggest problem, though. The fact is, its dark, jaded approach just can't compare to the corny, gee-whiz entertainment of the original. There are a few exciting moments in 8 Man After, but its characters are unsympathetic and annoying, and the story doesn't have enough strength to tie the action scenes together. 8 Man After is like a lot of other early 90s OVA remakes-- well-intentioned, but simply poorly executed.


Added:  Friday, October 17, 2003

Related Link:  Image Entertainment
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