I like to think I have a pretty decent knowledge about anime but I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert. I love finding out more about the history of the medium and I read as much as I can on the subject to better my knowledge and understanding.
I first found out about Dallos in the early 2000’s in a a book called The Anime Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy. It sounded interesting despite a mediocre review but to my knowledge there were no fansubs or an official release available at the time. I later found out it had received a westernised dubbed release in the states (more on that later) but as far as I know it’s never had any kind of UK release on home video. It has since surfaced in the US on DVD.
When it comes to the history of anime Dallos is somewhat of an unusual case. It is cited by many as the first OVA (Original Video Animation). Records would indicate that this is technically correct, it does seem to have been one of the first anime titles to debut on Video in Japan, however the term OVA may be a bit of a misnomer in this case. As you may know the term OVA usually refers to animation produced solely for the video market. However in the case of Dallos a TV series was planned but scrapped. Rather than suffer the financial loss of binning the entire series, the producers instead decided to recoup some of their money by releasing the completed footage as a retail video series.
The four episodes were released on four separate tapes. Remember Bartholomew, Dallos Demolition order and Sea of Rememberance Acts 1 and 2 hit store shelves in Japan between 1983 and 1984.
It seems outside of anime historians and people who really like their 80’s stuff Dallos isn’t that well known despite being directed by none other than industry legend Mamoru Oshii.
For me this is a bit of a shame as I honestly think that despite some flaws it’s actually a solid piece of old school science fiction with some great ideas and weighty themes even if it doesn’t get a chance to do as much with them as it could have.
The story is set in the near future on Monopolis, a mining colony on the surface of the moon. The work carried out there provides the Earth with minerals that are processed and used for resources the planet desperately needs for day to day life.
Unfortunately discontent among the miners and settlers has been growing for three generations. The harsh working conditions coupled with the rather extreme restrictions placed on those who live and work in Monopolis are beginning to take their toll. “Dog” McCoy, a man who saw his friend Tatsuya Nonomura framed by Monopolis Police for a crime he didn’t commit is now the leader of a guerilla faction who intends to take the planet back by force and usher in a new era of freedom and rights for its citizens. We get a bit of backstory about a terrible train crash in the lunar colony at a subway station called Bartholomew, branded “the Bartholomew incident”. It was said by the police to be an act of terrorism that claimed the lives of civilians. However the Monopolis police staged the tragedy in the hope it would crush the rebellion and stop further acts of defiance.
Meanwhile a teenage boy called Shun has a run in with McCoy when he saves the man’s life inadvertently. This coincides with the arrival of Alex Riger, a new Police force commander who shakes things up for the Monopolis government as well as its inhabitants. When Alex’s fiancee Melinda is kindapped by Mccoy’s rebels Shun must decide which side of the inevitable conflict he will be on.
On top of all of this political and social upheval there is Dallos. A strange mechanical structure that the settlers have come to worship as a god. Is it just a relic of the past or does it hold some sort of power or ancient purpose?
So what do I like about Dallos? Well for one thing it’s a “grounded” and more believable slice of science fiction than your average 80’s sci-fi anime. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy more fantastical sci-fi tales (I wouldn’t be a fan of super robot shows otherwise) but its take on the future feels more akin to classic American sci-fi movies of the 60’s and 70’s which helps it stand out a little.
For one thing all of the mecha in the series are little more than functional pieces of mining hardware. Just mining and digging machines that the guerillas modify to turn into makeshift weapons. There are some robots but they look like clunky and functional tools of labour rather than sleek war machines.
The characters are decent, however because of the short running time it means they aren’t given quite enough time to develop fully. Shun does have a sort of mini character arc that plays out over the four episodes but unfortunately as things get really interesting the show comes to an end. For example Shun makes his decision on whether he will join the rebellion or not moments before the end of the final episode leaving the role he plays in everything untold. This is the only real problem with the show, there’s a lot of good stuff here but it’s far from a complete story and instead feels like the beginning of what could have been a really great one.
Shun isn’t the deepest character but is likeable enough, although a little naive at first. He has a passion for tinkering with machines and his use of a piece of mining equipment ( a robotic arm) as a weapon to protect himself against a vicious police dog not only saves his life but also helps him make friends with McCoy who was being hunted by the animal. This in turn gives McCoy the idea to reverse engineer mining equipment as weaponry to enable the rebels to fight back for once. We find out pretty early that Tatsuya the friend of McCoy who was framed for terrorism and exiled to Saturn was in fact Shun’s brother. Obviously Shun wants to know more about what happened to him and though this is promised by Dog we never get to see that payoff.
Dog McCoy is probably the most interesting character in the series. As the leader of the rebels there’s a lot of focus on him. The series doesn’t go into too much depth about his motivations but it gives you enough to go on. It’s not just the fact Tatsuya was framed but also the fact that the miners don’t have the rights of the citizens of Earth. For example they aren’t allowed to go to other planets even on a holiday meaning they can’t visit any friends or loved ones that aren’t part of the lunar colony. Also disturbingly when they die they are chemically “recycled” and must wear metal rings on their foreheads that track their whereabouts and personal details. Monopolis authorities don’t exactly come off as particularly caring about their citizens either. For example their police patrol units are known as “debuggers” insinuating that criminals are “bugs” in the system to be weeded out and disposed of.
Shun’s grandfather is an interesting character as well. He offers a bit of intrigue regarding Dallos however it could be argued that he’s a bit of an archetype: the wise old mystic.
Alex Riger is kind of a stereotypical hardass who gives his subordinates a tough time for being useless and challenges authority making him unpopular with his superiors. Out of all of the characters that are important he could’ve done with a bit more emotional conflict.
The use of Dallos itself in the story is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand the mysteries surrounding it and its true origins are interesting however we never get to find out enough to form much of a theory as to what it actually is. In fact frustratingly the dying frames of the final episode tease something about Dallos that could mean almost anything but underline nothing for certain. Its biomechanical design is quite cool though, it seems to have been influenced by the work of HR Giger.
The animation is of a fairly good standard. It doesn’t soar to the dizzy heights of later OVAs but of course it was originally a TV production and it does look better than some of the TV anime of the time. There’s some good detail in there such as gory decompressing Astronaut heads and some quite well realised destruction of machinery and vehicles.
There are some good action set pieces including miners being hunted by deadly cyborg dogs, a battle inside of Dallos and a showdown on the surface of the moon between McCoy’s guerillas and the Monopolis police’s patrol spaceships. There are some pretty cool shots in the series as well including a good POV shot with fluid animation of a ship flying from the pilot’s cockpit Point of view and some nicely composed shots of huge amounts of shell casings from machine gun bullets falling down the stairs during a shootout.
The music could be better. The main theme is decent but the rest of the tracks seem a bit ill-fitting to the mood of the show, particularly the tunes used during the action sequences.
All in all Dallos is an entertaining curiosity. It’s got a hell of a lot going for it. It’s just a shame it had its wings clipped too early to see what it could have become. Despite that I find it a quite entertaining watch even if it doesn’t really commit to offering any sort of commentary on its themes of oppression and terrorism.
The ending offers some emotional resonance at least and you can definitely see some of Oshii’s future directorial flair at work in how many of the shots are composed. The world of Dallos shows a decent amount of imagination too and for that reason alone I think it has a decent amount of rewatch value.
TRIVIA: The westernised dub version was called “Battle for Moon Station Dallos” and weirdly was released on an American children’s video label called Just For Kids in 1987. Because everyone knows kids love bleak sci-fi about oppressed miners fighting back against the state.
Availability: Dallos is available officially in the states from Discotek Media on DVD. US Crunchyroll subscribers can stream it there at the time of writing though this could change in the future. The DVD is worth picking up for anime historians as it has some cool insights into the making of the show including interviews with Mamoru Oshii.
Note: Screen caps taken from an HD Blu Ray rip from Orphan Fansubs. If you’re reading this thank you for your efforts in rescuing many obscure titles which would have been lost to the mists of time otherwise.