Mike Toole rates it:
Dallos is a piece of animation that is worthy of consideration for purely historical reasons. Sure, it’s flashy and interesting-looking. Yeah, it’s directed by Mamoru Oshii, who would later give us opuses (opii?) like Patlabor 2 and Ghost in the Shell. Dallos is most interesting, however, because it’s the first OVA ever produced. OVAs (original video animation– direct to video releases for those of you still sorting out this whole anime thing) experienced a huge boom in the late eighties and early nineties, but the whole concept started right here. Wouldn’t you know it, Best Film & Video got their hands on a pre-dubbed, far less coherent edited version of Dallos (originally made of up four thirty-minute episodes) and released it on video.
Oshii is a great director, and he had a fantastic staff on hand for Dallos. Things get off to a promising start; in the Lunar city of Monopolis, the cops release a bunch of cybernetically-enhanced dogs to track and capture the leader of a group of dissidents– a fellow named Doug McCoy. Doug, who look sort of like the title character from Urashiman only with a Van Dyke, manages to lose the fuzz– but we do get to see Dallos‘s cold, calculating mask of authority, Alex Riger, go kung-fu on a bunch of other fugitives. The thing is, the dogs are loose all over the city, and they’re just bound to cause problems for Monopolis’s native residents– particularly for a young man named Shun, a miner’s son who gets his kicks by blowing off his lovestruck neighbor, Rachel, and repairing old mining equipment.
Here’s the thing: The moon is rich in ores that Earth could really, really use. What to do? Easy, just colonize the moon and set up a slum on the dark side of the moon for the miners! The miners don’t live in absolute poverty, but they have few freedoms, and their work is difficult and dangerous. Naturally, these circumstances have bred a certain amount of resentment, which is why characters like McCoy are lurking everywhere. As for Shun, When he’s cornered by a violent police dog, he simply uses a piece of mining gear to kill the thing. Oops! He’s committed a felony, possibly a serious one. For the privelege of getting attacked by a creepy half-robot Doberman, Shun gets to spend some time in jail before being sprung by McCoy, who’s trying to incite the entire local population to reject their Terran masters.
I could spend a few more paragraphs declaiming about Dallos‘s plot, but fortunately I don’t need to. The story is a remarkably brazen ripoff of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, right down to some of the wacky characters being exact copies of Heinlein’s entertaining cast. The only one missing is the all-knowing computer, but that’s okay– he’s replaced by Dallos itself, a gigantic, mysterious Lunar artifact that the locals seem to regard as some sort of deity. Dallos looks kind of like the Martian ‘face’ that periodically makes the cover of the Weekly World News. All of this is totally lost on Riger, Monopolis’s sherriff, who simply wants to clean up the subversive elements and run a nice, orderly town. He loses some of his chilly objectivity when his fiancee, Melinda, is kidnapped; he’s dead set on getting his lady back, and isn’t afraid to kill anyone who might be helping hold her hostage. Of course, among the hostage-takers is Shun, who’s naturally divided about the whole Lunarians vs. Terrans issue.
That sequence of events– Shun’s getting roped into the rebellion, Alex having his girlfriend swiped, Rachel dealing with her own jealousy, and McCoy’s adamant militarism and refusal to take Shun seriously– all come together to form Dallos‘s narrative, which isn’t that bad– like I said, it’s just a gigantic ripoff of of a Heinlein story. Dallos also borrows a few other Heinleinian elements– the super-smart, enhanced dogs smell an awful lot like Starship Troopers‘ neodogs to me– but I can’t say I blame them for lifting some stuff. Neodogs are cool.
Presentation, courtesy of the bargain-basement Best Film & Video outfit (they’re now defunct, I’m told), is about as lousy as can be expected. I don’t fault them for presenting the “movie” edit as opposed to each separate episode, as the materials probably weren’t made available to them to begin with. The transfer, in terms of both video and audio, is surprisingly good and clean– for a film of Dallos‘ age, and taking the drawbacks of VHS into consideration, it couldn’t have looked much better. Of course, the dub is dreadful, featuring the usual cast of four British Hong Kong residents (three guys and one girl), mixed so low that the music and sound effects frequently drown out their dialogue. If you can suffer these defects– and chances are, if you’re used to Best Film & Video fare, you can– you should be OK watching Dallos.
Of course, since Oshii is directing, Dallos‘ animation is really impressive at times. There’s some really cool mecha designs and animation sequences for the viewer patient enough to sit through Dallos‘ tangled narrative. Also thanks to Oshii’s influence, no doubt, Dallos is completely gun-crazy. This is a movie that’s full of cool robots, flashing cannon muzzles, and flying bullet shells– it’s stuff that really would’ve looked like gold to me in the 80s, when Dallos was released and I only had terrible Saturday-morning kiddie cartoons based on video games to watch. Another thing about Dallos is its terrible, awful cover art. I kept looking at the video cover and imagining this:
Burn, baby; burn. Finally, there’s one thing that really drags Dallos down, and that’s its utter lack of denoument. Oshii and his staff present the viewer with a number of cool characters and story ideas, but never make an effort to tie them together. Dallos, the one puzzle piece essential to the story, is pretty much forgotten about after about two thirds of the movie is up. Much is made of the fact that the alien artifact might be sentient, and when it inevitably goes haywire, it seems to be protecting the Moon colonists that are loyal to it– but the whole story arc is quickly abandoned. Instead, the ending is about Shun and his dying grandfather making a significant trip to the Moon’s near side, where Shun vows that he’s going to do something about Earth’s arrogant treatment of the Lunar colonists. The viewer is treated to some powerful visuals as a result of this, but Dallos‘ story suffers badly. There are worthy things in Dallos, but you can’t very well have a good story without some sort of closure.
Added: Friday, October 10, 2003
Related Link: Best Film & Video