I know what you’re thinking: this guy’s freaking insane. Everybody in American anime fandom knows M.D. Geist sucked. In fact, my fellow writers Daryl Surat and Clarissa Graffeo have a saying they repeat occasionally on Anime World Order: people have various thoughts on what the worst anime they’ve seen is, but the second worst is always M.D. Geist. But I beg to differ, and believe that Koichi Ohata, whose Burst Angel is being honored in Otaku USA, gave us an okay action video to enjoy.
The story of M.D. Geist is pretty straightforward: a ferocious super soldier comes out of a long imprisonment on a colonized planet whose population faces violent anarchy. Geist winds up fighting various forces alongside what remains of the government’s army to get to his objective and win the day. The thing is, his objective may be something more sinister than anyone first thought.
So why is this video generally thought of so badly? Usually people first point to the animation quality, because it isn’t as fluid as a Miyazaki masterpiece, or even as much as Dragon Ball or whatever the latest action craze is. Thing is, it was released in 1986, just as Japanese animators were experimenting with the new Original Animated Video market, which allowed for stories which didn’t have the script length for a full 26—52 episode TV series. The OAV market also allowed for titles which didn’t have the budget to look perfect on the big screen and allowed animator flexibility with the ratings system so that more extreme content could be explored. Dallos was the first OAV created, but it was Megazone 23 which first tested the boundaries in terms of content.
A sequel to Megazone 23 was made in ’86, though with extremely violent content and sexual situations which would not have made it to TV. Also present were detailed mecha designs which didn’t necessarily have super fluid movements but generally adequate ones. There were a few art mistakes but those were commonplace in many anime TV shows at that time, much like the production of M.D. Geist. Other anime produced that year include Project A-ko, They Were 11, Grey: Digital Target and Gall Force: Eternal Story, which all had similar production values, though admittedly the first three were a bit better than M.D Geist.
Another complaint I hear about is the story itself, which I thought was okay for a single action piece. Again, not even great, but it was made in the same era that the U.S. was making movies about single soldiers with superior fighting skills, which film fans are starting to regale as classics due to the presence of stars like Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris. Japan’s animators often looked to American movies for inspiration and M.D. Geist is probably a result of this more than anything. Strangely though, there came this point where I thought Geist resembled the look of Char Aznable from Mobile Suit Gundam with the attributes and attitude of Chirico Cuvie from Armored Trooper Votoms (particularly from the fourth Votoms story arc), so Japanese icons may have inspired his creation, as well.
Yeah, guessing he’s sounding rather derivative with this description, and not especially deep. Still, he was rather effective in the action area, which is one of the two things I found most enjoyable about the M.D. He’s pure destruction, and sometimes this is rather amusing when put into action, as with the first guy he gets into a fight with. Well, it wasn’t exactly a fight, and the opponent did say there was only one rule: “Kill!” Guess it helps if you don’t say that to a man with a butcher’s knife, but I digress. Anyways, the other element is something I found different than most action anime I’ve watched: the use of jazz music. Most anime always have either philharmonic orchestras or hard rock the whole time, but never jazz. Strangely, I found this element entertaining while watching Geist display new kill moves, though the knife in the forehead/grenade combo might have been a bit over the top, I grant you.
In any case, bottom line is I found the original version of M.D. Geist to be a decent representative of the early OAV market for its time. Is it pure art worthy of an Oscar or Annie award or something? Nah, not even close, but it is an entertaining action vid with okay production values, unique elements and a psychotically fun twist. This version of M.D. Geist is not available on DVD in the US, as Central Park Media chose to put only the director’s cut along with the second volume from the mid-90’s into the American market, so it might be a bit difficult to find this piece outside of a dealer room discount bin, but if you do and it’s not too expensive, I say take a look at it; it could be good for a gathering of friends to watch some action flick or to practice lines from MST3K. Either way, recommended.