A little while ago I posted an article about the anime film Lily Cat under the title of B-Movie theatre. I’d envisaged it to be a recurring series however I hadn’t quite gotten around to returning to that idea until now.
In case you didn’t read the previous one the aim is to review something that gets quite a bit of hate but I actually genuinely like. A lot of the titles discussed here will be of the horror/sci-fi/fantasy variety and contain a lot of elements that a live action movie could get branded as being a “B-movie” for having. That’s not to say that all of the titles will be enjoyable but dumb or to put it another way “so bad they’re good” (some are truly great in my opinion) but let me put it this way: they’re definitely not for everyone.
Quality is in the eye of the beholder of course. While I enjoy a lot of old (and new) anime that everyone unanimously agrees is great I also enjoy some stuff that gets ripped to shreds on various review sites. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m the kind of person who sees the good in even a bad movie or series but also it’s often because a lot of people look down on certain genres or can be a bit pretentious about what makes good anime.
Which brings me to the subject of this review. These days Hirohiko Araki is pretty well known in western fandom for being creator of the generation spanning martial arts/horror manga epic JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure that ran in Weekly Shonen Jump from 1987 to 2004. Thanks to an amazingly successful 2012 anime adaptation everyone and his dog has heard of JoJo, even non-anime fans have likely been drawn into its madness with a plethora of memes and its incredibly vocal online fanbase. However prior to 2012 mention JoJo or Araki to anyone you’d be likely to be met with a blank stare. Although one OVA of the series was released in the States and one of its videogames came west to PS1 and Dreamcast in the late 90’s that was pretty much all the English speaking world had seen of it back then. A previous attempt to launch the manga by VIZ (from its third installment) was also cancelled due to low sales. However it wasn’t the first work by Araki that had been released in the west. That honour went to a little known manga (and anime OVA) called Baoh The Visitor.
Baoh is one of those titles that came out during a boom of pulpy, ultra violent manga like Riki-oh, Dog Soldier and Mad Bull 34. The manga version debuted in Weekly Shonen Jump between 1984 to 1985 and was later collected in 2 volumes. Baoh was my introduction to Araki’s work when VIZ published it in English in the 90’s and I lapped it up. It had all of the elements a teenage boy raised on horror and monster movies/sci-fi would love; grotesque transformations, imaginative psychic powers, crazy gore and entertaining bad guys.
They made a little anime OVA adaptation in 1989. Now here’s the thing; if the above elements don’t appeal to you then stop reading now because you don’t watch this OVA for something highbrow. However if you want to watch seriously evil bad guys get seriously messed up by a near invincible monster of their own creation then you’ve come to the right place.
The OVA begins with a young girl named Sumire being pursued by some shady military types on a train full of strange equipment that looks like a mobile laboratory. She manages to evade her captors for a while but is eventually captured. They want her because she has an incredibly strong precognitive ability that makes her valuable “research material”. The group is soon revealed to be named Doress, a secret criminal organisation composed of scientists and assassins with psychic abilities. We see a bunch of scientists trying to contain something in a tank filled with water and hooked up to all kinds of machinery. It’s not long before the water is spilling from the tank and the bolts that hold the machine down are being ripped free and whatever is inside breaks loose. The scientists are in a panic because “Baoh” has been released!
A normal (if rather muscular) looking young man emerges from the tank and escapes the train with Sumire, killing one of the henchmen by flinging him from the train like a ragdoll. It’s soon clear that whatever he is he’s more than human as he leaps from the train with Sumire in his arms and runs off into the night.
Soon we discover he’s a seemingly ordinary man called Ikuro Hashizawa. Slowly recovering his memories of being experimented on by Doress he recalls a car crash in which his family were killed. He survived but was at the brink of death, then Doress came and snatched him to be their guinea pig testing out their latest bioweapon on him: a genetically engineered parasitic worm that imbues its host with superhuman strength and a vast array of incredible abilities.
From the moment Ikuro and Sumire escape from the lab Baoh The Visitor is a rip roaring action filled ride of craziness and silly plotting that you’re either likely to love or hate. The OVA goes from one madcap setpiece to another interspersed with little snippets of plot about Doress’s ambition to create the ultimate weapon and Ikuro’s determination to protect Sumire and himself from them and their repeated kidnap attempts.
The way Baoh’s story is handled in the OVA is pretty funny. The characters behave a little like living pieces of exposition in that they’re always explaining through dialogue exactly what’s going on. At any point of watching it you’re only ever moments away from another character explaining some plot point in detail. It really breaks the creative writing “show don’t tell” rule explicitly however it’s lucky that the OVA has other things going for it. The production values from Studio Pierrot are pretty great. Araki’s unusual character designs realy shine when mixed with a good standard of animation and I’ve always loved Baoh’s design which is somewhere between the title characters of Devilman, Guy and Genocyber on the coolness scale.
As the hunt for the duo continues the worm “Baoh” begins to affect Ikuro more altering his genetic makeup and giving him increasingly wild powers and a mean looking demonic form with blue skin, tentacle-like hair and bladed forearms. First he gains strength, speed and agility then the ability to generate a large burst of electricity from his body. Soon he can literally melt bad guys faces or make them explode by touching them (something the animators seem to enjoy rendering in insane detail). As if he wasn’t powerful enough during the final fight with Walken, Doress’s most powerful assassin. he gets hold of a giant laser cannon…..
One thing I really love about this OVA is the way Ikuro/Baoh is animated while he’s fighting. He has a style and grace about his movements, he’s not just a mindless hulk style wrecking ball. Despite causing utter devestation wherever he goes his movements and attacks are still purposeful, giving the fights a rather hypnotic quality.
The pacing of this OVA is great. It rattles along with copious amounts of action and is consistently entertaining both due to some genuinely cool ideas (Sumire and Ikuro’s abilities are consistently imaginative and often animated in interesting ways for example) and some really silly ones. Take the villain Walken who wears a headband that limits his pyschic ability and when it comes off he becomes really powerful. Which is as daft as it sounds.
For all its faults Baoh is a very entertaining little slice of nostalgia and likely a bit of a product of the tail end of the bubble economy when studios where still able to throw money at whatever projects they wanted. If you’re a fan of Hirohiko Araki’s work on JoJo I reccomend checking this out and the manga if you can find it. Many see it as a kind of prototype for JoJo however I would argue it’s different enough to stand out on its own but it certainly has some familiar elements he would develop further in his much more famous work.
I would love to read the manga again as my copy went missing after lending it to a so- called friend in the late 90’s and now it fetches insane prices on the second hand market.
If you like monsters, ultraviolence, bioweapons, weird bad guys and funny dialogue then you should definitely check out Baoh, it really does feel like a B-movie writ large and if that kind of thing is your bag then it gets a solid recommendation from yours truly.
Availability: Sadly there’s no current western DVD or Blu Ray release and it isn’t available on any streaming platforms either. Animeigo released a DVD in the early 2000’s that much like the manga has been the target of greedy scalpers. Your only option if you’d like to see it is to scour the internet for a fansubbed rip of the region 2 Japanese DVD release (see screenshots). I always like to promote the official release but if there’s no other option there’s not much you can do. I doubt people will be tripping over themselves to watch this as it’s very much an acquired taste however if you grew up watching a lot of the same stuff I did it might just be your cup of tea.
Disclaimer: I quite enjoy things some may view as “trashy” and I own a Baoh action figure. I hope you’ll join me again for another edition of B-Movie Theatre soon. Bye for now.