My Review of Mad Bull 34!

Review requested by Nate Milbank.

 

Daizoburo Edi-Ban Is a young American-born Japanese man, descended from immigrants and raised to uphold a strict sense of morality. He joins the New York city police force, precinct 34, intending nothing less than to enforce the law, punish evil, fight crime and defend the innocent. His idealistic nature is stressed to the breaking point when he finds out that his partner, whether he likes it or not, is a veteran cop named Johnny Estes, who carries two nicknames… Sleepy, probably for his chill and laid back nature when he’s off the clock, and Mad Bull, for his violent, uncontrollable nature that he slips into whenever he slips on the badge. A long time loose cannon who would rather spend his time making the rounds with every prostitute in the tri-county area than patrol his assigned area, and to whom questioning live suspects just feels like a waste of time and energy, it doesn’t take very long for Officer Estes to show his impressionable rookie partner what the inside of a rapists’ brain looks like.

But as the two cops become closer… Or, as Daizoburo slowly slips into the trappings of Stockholm Syndrome, which seems equally plausible… He begins to see the good nature of his giant burly buddy, as well as the method behind his bull-headed madness. Unfortunately, his trouble doesn’t end there, as Mad Bull’s “Shoot first and ask questions to the splattered skulls later” tactics have earned him more than a few enemeies throughout his storied career, and he’s always willing to make a few more! With this giant, over-sexed, trigger happy senior officer by his side, Daizoburo will have to deal with rapists, gangsters, drug dealers, witness protection and a serial-killer who won’t stop targeting cops, all while struggling to defend his ideals, the general population, and his precious virginity from the very person he was expecting to help him do so. Welcome to the concrete jungle, my friends, because we’ve got fun and games, so strap on your grenade jock strap and take a bite out of the big apple.

Hey, did you know there used to be a production company called Magic Bus? If so, then that makes one of us! Seriously, though, talk about obscure. If this thing isn’t owned and operated by Miss Frizzle, I’m not sure what reality is anymore. Anyway, obscure is definitely the right word for this company, who appeared in the mid eighties and put out most of their work in the nineties, including nine straight years of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. They seemingly went quiet in 2006, having produced only two shows between then and now. Mad Bull 34 was an OVA series that they released over the course of two years. It was released in the early nineties, so… Well, you can probably guess from there what kind of animation you’re in for. The visual quality of this series is so low budget that even though it’s extremely dated, I highly doubt it was even considered acceptable for it’s time. It does kind of work in it’s advantage, as the low quality does sort of add to the overall tone, making it feel more like a bootleg video of a grindhouse movie, and yeah, that is a pretty good fit.

Even considering this, however, it’s still a really ugly looking show, which is especially hard to ignore in the first episode, where it looks like the producers haven’t even begun to figure out how to use budget cuts to hide their weaknesses. They get better at it in the third and fourth episodes, or in other words the second half, but the result they achieve isn’t really as effective as they were hoping, because while it doesn’t look cheap or badly animated in those episodes, it does look very obviously like budget cuts are being used, and that is an improvement, but not a huge one. No matter what episode you’re watching, however, the budget was clearly reserved for action, as the best looking moments in the series are the gunfights, the gruesome dismemberments and exploding heads, and the admittedly fun car chases. That’s not to say any of it looks good, per se, as it’s best moments look mediocre at most, but the rest of the on-screen material… And I do mean the rest of it… Suffers to help the action to even look THAT good.

The artwork is very roughly drawn, much like the backgrounds, although they did accurately capture the shitty and decrepit feeling of most areas in New York city. Character designs, despite falling to the same issue, are inspired and distinctive, as long we’re referring to the main hero characters. The villains are much more generic and samey, as most of them could be described as stock thugs, with a few rare muscle-bound black guys and sexy femme fatales to break up the monotony. A lot of the women who appear throughout the series, most of whom are either prostitutes, victims or both, are just big boobed, long haired blonde chicks with very little variation in their appearances. The heroes, who are among the very few featured people, are kind of unforgettable, even the one who looks just like all the other blondes. One of the tricks they use to make Mad Bull and Daizoburo memorable was through their drastically different heights, with the title character towering over all he meets, and the actual main character, an obvious audience cypher and the moral center of the group, is quite possibly the shortest man in Manhattan. Oh, and there’s also a villain who wears a costume that looks like a cross between Green Goblin and a Xenomorph.

With only four 45 minute episodes under it’s belt, there really shouldn’t be a lot of music, but each episode has at least ten different tracks in it. The music was seemingly entirely produced by one man, English rock guitarist David Ross Skinner, and while it does carry an authentic New York City cop drama feel to it, the homogeny does show, as there’s actually very little variety to the music. That’s not to say any of it sounds bad, as a lot of it is actually pretty cool sounding, but there’s only so much you can get out of a soundtrack that’s comprised mostly of slow tunes for “moments,” and high tension tunes for the action. Most of the ending themes were contributed by a Korean band called Maizurah, who can sing in what sounds like pretty impeccable English, but perhaps more surprising is the fact that the ending theme of the very first episode is a song from the Godfather of soul himself, James Brown. Yeah, I’m making that sound more impressive than it is, because James Brown is all around amazing, and yet they still managed to find one of his lesser songs. I seriously think Time to Get Busy is the result of Brown completely forgetting the lyrics and just not giving a fuck.

The english dub, on the other hand, is pretty awesome. I know that’s weird to say about a dub from the nineties, especially for the dub of a low budget OVA, because these things normally sound like the worst things ever, but the actors in this title just have so much fun with what they’re given. This is especially true of Allan Wenger, a man with so many voice credits to his name since 1978 that it’s a crime wikipedia doesn’t have a page on him. His dubbing resume extends to animation from a laundry list of countries, with relatively few coming from Japan. In any case, he plays the title character as dumb, cocky and bullheaded, but at the same time with enough laid back presence and good humor to make him feel more like a lovable doofus than a psychopath with a badge. Alan Merriott has a much more pronounced anime history, and as Edi-ban, he skews a lot younger than his co-star, and he does so with a much deeper accent, which easily sells the idea that he’s just transferred into this precinct from another county. Of course, both actors do have perfect accents and pitches for their characters.

Speaking of perfect accents, the prime female character, Perrine Valley… Well, she certainly has an accent. Her stint in anime voice acting appears to be a hiccup in her primary career as a British TV actress, including appearances in a 2007 Doctor Who spin-off. This is probably the reason she’s the only British character in the entire series, a fact that’s never explained or referenced in the dialogue. She barely has a presence, reads off her lines as stiff and blandly as possible, and is completely overshadowed by the female characters who are introduced in the following two episodes. Unfortunately the dub gets a little muddled from here, partially due to the many names on it that only appear in this specific series… Which is normally a sign that fake names are being used… And while several black thugs in the series are credited under the name Wesley Powell, I think I can distinctly hear Beau Billingslea in their performances. I could be wrong, but Beau is awesome, and if these stock thugs were being played by an actual black man… Unlike the anime’s only black female character… I could see him wanting to keep his name off of it. This show can get pretty racist, after all.

In the time that I’ve been writing for this blog, if I’ve ever said anything negative about an anime you like, and you disagree with me, I respect your opinion, and would love to hear what you love about it that I don’t. Granted, when a series offends me in some special way, I may argue with you, but I will at least acknowledge that you have a point that needs making. What I can’t respect is when people defend an awful series by saying, in so many colorful ways, that it’s immune to criticism. They don’t claim that any of my points are wrong, just that they’re moot… A series can be terrible and get away with it because it was never trying to be good, or it was aiming to please an audience that I’m apparently not part of. I’ve seen this argument used in defense of titles like Gantz, Kiss X Sis, Stella Womens Academy, and an untold number of old, shock-filled OVA series, when really, the only form of media I can justifiably see that defense applying to is actual porn. With any other form of media, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go in with standards and expectations, and you’re not nit-picky for having them.

For example, a lot of people love yaoi anime, because they want to see two hot guys bang, nevermind the fact that the situations are often highly rapey and the characters are infantilized. People like yuri anime because they want to see two hot girls getting it on, nevermind the fact that neither of them feel like real people in even the shallowest of contexts. People love romance stories even when they’re sexist and abusive as all hell, with special nods to Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey and Say I Love You. Yeah, I said it. I won’t say there’s anything wrong with indulging in your guilty pleasures because the thrill you get out of it is worth all the questionable crap you have to ignore, but to defend it as a profound piece of literature or awesome despite it’s flaws when you’re just ignoring the things you don’t like is insane. Yeah, I love caviar, but if you spread it on a piece of your dog’s dried up shit, I’m not going to stuff that shit into mouth for some caviar… I’m going to say ‘No thank you, I’d like the next batch to be on a cracker, please.”

On that note, do I have a low opinion of Mad Bull 34 because of it’s excessive violence, sex and misogynistic attitude towards women? No, because I actually have a rather high tolerance for these things. I enjoy Elfen Lied and Sword Art Online, after all, despite what the mediocre scores I gave them may suggest. The reason Mad Bull 34 fails to impress me is entirely due to it’s writing, and if you’re scoffing at me for not taking it’s ridiculous and tongue in cheek nature into account, guess what, I did. There is no form of literature or entertainment, save for literal porn, that isn’t subject to the quality of its writing, and yes, that includes exploitation media. That’s not to say there’s such a thing as objective quality, or that all forms of media should be united under one unifying standard, but if I have an opinion on something, I’m going to express it in depth and in detail, with no regard for what the piece was trying to do, or who it was trying to entertain. Except with Mad Bull 34, I don’t really NEED much in the way of detail, and I’m going to prove it by going episode by episode.

The first episode, so gracefully titled “Hit and Rape,” is the story of how Edi-ban met and formed a bond with Sleepy Joe Estes, and out of the entire series, this one probably contains the most violence and sex. I don’t mind that so much… What I do mind is that the whole episode plays like a glowing, self-indulgent self-insert fanfic written by someone who wishes they could be a giant, musclebound stud. He gets flaws in later episodes, but Sleepy Joe is SUCH a Mary-Sue here. He’s the pinnacle of justice, everybody loves him, and the people who don’t are either the villains he’s inconveniencing or people who just don’t understand him. He gets to have a ton of anonymous sex with hookers for free, but none of them mind, because he’s a totally nice person who’s paying to have their STDs and rape trauma treated, even though he demonstrates early on that his form of breaking woman out of shock is to penetrate them anally. He murders criminals for bullshit reasons, following convoluted logic that the rest of the world just blindly accepts, because he is Joe, and he can do no wrong, even based on a guess so farfetched that Sherlock Holmes would pump the breaks before acting on it.

The second episode tries to be better, as it introduces a strong female character… Of course, by this show’s standards, strong means ‘not a prostitute,’ and like most female characters, she’s pretty much just there to get in trouble, get assaulted, and show the audience her tits. I honestly don’t remember much about this episode unless I really think about it… I recall the villain being more obvious than Doctor Evil, Sleepy being able to survive half a dozen bullets to the ass as well as a point blank grenade explosion to the face, and to be fair, one of the most epic moments in anime history… Sleepy Joe pulls off his pants to reveal that he’s tied a few dozen grenades to his pubes, which his partner starts to pluck and throw at a bunch of 1930’s cartoon mobsters. Honestly, that moment is probably why people remember this series at all… They sure as hell don’t come back to see Daizoburo miraculously rise from his death bed, all of his teeth suddenly intact, after a phony marriage ceremony helps him recover from what should have been a fatal beating.

I don’t want to give away too much of the last two episodes, for spoiler reasons and the like, so I’m just going to lump them together here. The third episode involves a plot between a politician and a reporter that’s so confusing, it’s honestly hard to keep up with, and our heroes get tied up in a witness protection story where everybody keeps making decisions that are stupid and contrived beyond belief, the backstory to the situation we’re dropped into is told to us and never shown, and apparently a politician can buy his way out of being positively identified by ten murder-scene rape kits, and with that much power, a lone reporter shooting her mouth off somehow poses a threat? And then you have the final episode, which started out really good, with a villain from Sleepy’s past come back to haunt him, killing more male police officers than the Russian chick from Kick-Ass 2, and it seems like the series will go out on a great note before a sudden reveal halfway through turns it into the most bafflingly awful love story since Elfen Lied. It does say something about your ability to write villains when the first one that has a remotely understandable motive gets treated like a fucking saint.

If any of this interests you, which I can understand, then you’re in luck… After twenty years of obscurity, it was rescued and released stateside on DVD in 2012 by Diskotek Media, who’ve been doing a lot of that lately. You can find it at a pretty decent price, too. Unfortunately, the original manga, which I can only imagine is superior due to that usually being the case, is not available, nor is it’s sequel, Mad Bull 2000.

I hope by this point I’ve proven to you that my problems with this title go far deeper than it’s so-called shocking content. Your sensibilities may differ, but for me, offensiveness is a matter of context, and not content, and no matter how bloody, over-sexed or misogynistic the material got, I just couldn’t muster up enough interest or investment in the story or characters to GET offended. It was so stupid and badly written that even when graphic rape was occurring on screen, I didn’t feel sorry for the victims, I didn’t feel angry at the villains, I didn’t feel disgusted by the tastes of the writer, I was just bored, staring blankly at the screen and waiting for any… Any… of it’s ridiculous shit to be as entertainingly bad as the crotch grenades were. And speaking of entertainingly bad, that’s exactly what this series is… You invite some friends over, you get drunk enough to think your reflection is picking a fight with you, and you laugh your asses off at how desperate this series is to try and make you remember it. It’s not anywhere near one of the worst anime I’ve ever seen, but I’d never recommend it to someone on the assumption that they’ll genuinely, soberly enjoy it. I give Mad Bull 34 a 3/10.

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