Sometimes the only response to the existence of something stupefying is to shrug your shoulders and say: “Hey, it was the Eighties.”
This phrase could be the mantra of Battle Royal High School, not to be confused with Battle Royale, the book by Koushun Takami, or Battle Royale, the movie adaptation of that book directed by the inimitable Kinji Fukasaku. About the only elements that Battle Royal High School and the other property with the flowery ‘e’ on the end have in common are teenage protagonists and graphic violence. To help clarify the difference between two works with such similar names, it’s easiest to refer to this anime by its full title: Legend of the True Devils: Battle Royal High School.
Not clear enough? Well, this anime (based off of the manga by Shinichi Kuruma) begins with high school hero and lovable ne’er-do-well Riki Hyoudo donning a leopard mask and knocking out every member of his school’s karate club. Riki wants to be the greatest and most unconventional fighter in the world, but to do that he first has to slip the shackles of the traditional martial arts styles, so out comes the leopard mask and down go his fellow club members. That was how a person tendered their resignation back then. Hey, it was the Eighties.
Not weird enough? Apparently Riki’s sudden urge to fight is the result of trans-dimensional strangeness, because Riki is actually the Earth-born counterpart of Byoudo, an all around intergalactic badass and the Master of the Dark Realm. The Gate of Light has popped open, and Byoudo’s power is spilling through it into young Riki. Byoudo travels to Earth in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy only to fall into a trap set by his subordinates, who are sick of him ruling the Dark Realm with an iron fist. But Byoudo is not deterred by this latest treachery. In an effort to conquer Earth as well, the Dark Lord merges with Riki, so that the galactic overlord and the scrappy teenager with the heart of gold share one body and a single destiny. It’s an uneasy alliance, as Riki’s genial nature keeps Byoudo’s tremendous evil power in check.
Still not weird enough? Well, there’s a psychic swordsman wandering around looking for demons to slay. And there’s a nasty infestation of Dark Realm Fairies that invade the bodies of people and animals, transforming the victims into slobbering tentacle-monsters. Also, the Space / Time Investigation Division dispatches Inspector Zakan to prevent the various interlopers from interfering with Earth’s future, which he does with a suit of super sentai powered armor and a lightsaber. Also chinpira and bancho and assorted adolescent gangsters. And a giant, murderous teddy bear. High school crushes. Love triangles. Wanton destruction. Body horror. Slapstick. Nudity. Cursing. Ludicrous gibs.
All of this is crammed into a span of 60 minutes, squashing the high points of four volumes of manga into an original animation video that is at once ridiculously straightforward and remarkably convoluted. New characters are rapidly introduced and eliminated. Riki punches the bad guys; they explode in torrents of gore. Context, character development, and narrative cohesion are all jettisoned in favor of any excuse to animate a bit of the old ultra-violence or a flash of cartoon breasts.
Hey, it was the Eighties, and the person in the director’s seat was none other than Ichiro Itano. Itano is the kind of artist that produces breathtakingly beautiful work when his role in the project plays to his particular talents, i.e. dealing with the nuts and bolts of animation. Encourage these skills, and we get great work like Itano’s contributions to Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? and Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer. But put Itano in charge of direction and we get Gantz, Angel Cop, and Violence Jack 2, which can only be called “great” if we’re operating according to the logic of Bizarro World.
“Hey, it was the Eighties,” explains the existence of Battle Royal High School. It does not explain why AnimEigo licensed it and released it on VHS and DVD. It does not explain why I bought it in 2003 and still own it to this day. I can speculate that Battle Royal High School was included in a package deal with other Tokuma Shoten properties that Robert Woodhead and company wanted to distribute, but what’s my excuse? Am I that depraved? That desperate for cheap entertainment? Is it some flaw in my upbringing? Is it some quirk of destiny that untold trillions of chance occurrences would result in making me the kind of person who would not only purchase such an awesomely lame anime, but secretly relish it and conspire to inflict it on others?
Maybe I was just born during the wrong decade.
Hey, it was the Eighties…
Originally released: 1987
Running time: 60 minutes