Goku: Midnight Eye
Mike Toole rates it:
I’m no stranger to Goku: Midnight Eye. It’s a very early (relatively) OVA release, created by Buichi Terasawa (of Space Adventure Cobra fame) and animated by Madhouse under the direction of Yoshiaki Kawajiri– the same animation team that brought us Ninja Scroll and Demon City Shinjuku.
A good way to sum Goku up is to describe it as a cross between the “monkey king” legend from Wu Cheng-an’s classic epic novel, Journey to the West, crossed expertly with Wicked City. In the near future, Goku Furinji is a cop turned private eye, due to a combination of his desire to get more money with less supervision and the fact that he made an awful cop. He’s tough and a little arrogant, but he tends to get the job done.
The story begins in the year 2014, when Goku’s ex-partner, Tamiya, kills himself in a strip club. Goku doesn’t believe that Tamiya would ever stoop to killing himself; his suspicion is immediately raised. That, along with the fact that three other cops had also killed themselves mysteriously, piques Goku’s interest. And when he finds out that his old friend (and possible romantic interest) Yokho is on the force and investigating the case, that decides it– Goku launches an investigation of his own.
What he finds is entertaining and bizarre– at the center of things is a suave, pompous arms dealer named Genji Hakuryu. Hakuryu seems small-time, but one look at his headquarters convinces Goku that something funny’s going on. But a close encounter with two of Hakuryu’s bizarre female assassins leaves Goku badly wounded, and missing his left eye.
He never gets to wear an eyepatch and say “arr”, though. He’s rescued by a mysterious benefactor, and upon regaining consciousness, he finds he has a left eye again– only there’s something funny about it. It seems to work better than his old eye, in fact. Hell, it can even provide real-time analysis of all visual input that it’s provided with, and it can tap into and control virtually any computer on the planet. Not only that, Goku is given a nearly indestructible, super-powerful extending pole (which rounds out the monkey king bit nicely). So, in one fell swoop, he’s turned from an unlucky private eye to a super-powered cyber-terrorist.
But he has to act fast– it looks like Hakuryu is specifically targeting Yokho for assassination. How will he stop Hakuryu and his weird henchmen? And who the hell gave him the eye and pole? Doesn’t matter– it’s time to kick ass, and Goku does so with great aplomb and style.
Goku: Midnight Eye creator Buichi Terasawa doesn’t hate women, but he tends to objectify them almost to the point of self-parody in his work. Space Adventure Cobra had the all too demure Jane Flower and her identical twin sisters, but they don’t even come close to the hilarity of the girls in Goku. Granted, it’s kind of stupid, but how can you possibly be that offended by a topless girl with hypnotic peacock feathers (which doesn’t make sense– peacocks are male! But really, does it matter?) and another topless girl who shoots lasers from her mouth and who’s called “the Harley Girl” because, uh, she has, er, handlebars. And yes, at one point, a character rides her around, though not in the sense you’re thinking of, you filthy-minded little… um. Anyway.
Along with the hilarious female caricatures, Goku himself is quite a piece of work. He’s not the invincible sex mo-sheen that Cobra is– in fact, he tends to have pretty rotten luck with women. Despite that, he still kicks ass and doesn’t take any shit. The thing is, Goku actually turns down the sexual advances of two women in the course of the show– while he had a good reason to do so with one of the girls, he just flat-out didn’t want to bother with the other one. Now, he’s probably just really cautious, but considering his appearance (muscular, no chest hair, sideburns) and wardrobe (what appears to be a leather blazer, leather tie, and a spandex wife-beater underneath), you could probably draw, um, other conclusions about his character. But that’s neither here nor there, is it?
All chat about humorous sexual content (implied or otherwise) aside, Goku definitely benefits from Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s direction. Everything that I love about his and Madhouse’s collaborations are here– dynamic character movement, dark, muted colors, and character designs that conist of sharp, aqualine women and agile, rangy men. That, combined with Kawajiri’s penchant for splattering bodies and explosions, makes for a visually action-packed experience. The one big drawback is that the computer readouts that Goku sees with his left eye are never, ever translated– unfortunately, that simply would have been difficult to do elegantly. Amusingly, the few words of English that appear are usually misspelled (ex. “DOOR ROCK”).
The dub has its own sets of pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it has a very solid cast– the actor who plays Spike in Cowboy Bebop (Steve Blum?) is an agreeably-irritable Goku, and Sean Thornton (whom we know as Blackjack and Hotohori from Fushigi Yuugi, this time appearing as “Kirk Thornton”) turns in a great bad-guy performance as Hakuryu. It also has a reasonably faithful translation, with script rewrites done by Ardwright Chamberlain (Kosh from Babylon 5), of all people. On the minus side, I don’t think that the music in the dub is from the original– this is usually a bad idea. New music has been tried for many, many anime productions (like 8-Man After), the Sailor Moon dub, and Fist of the North Star TV), and it’s failed spectacularly almost every time. Amusingly, the music abruptly switches back to the Japanese stuff just in time for the ending credits song. Interestingly, this dub was commissioned by Orion in 1997, and was done by a post-production studio that I hadn’t heard of before. The original, of course, is still preferred, simply for the (ostensibly) better music– and I think I also like Shige Matsuda’s performance as Goku a little better. Fortunately, Urban Vision will be releasing both versions.
I liked Goku when I first saw it (in 1994), and I still like it. Like Buichi Terasawa’s other work, it’s frequently macho and stupid, but still reliably entertaining. Kawajiri doesn’t have the noir-ish elegance of Osamu Dezaki (who directed Cobra), but his style still suits Goku immensely– the characters look great, the city is towering and gloomy, and all of the action that Madhouse are known for are there.
Added: Sunday, October 12, 2003
Related Link: Urban Vision