Sometimes you don’t know just how good you’ve got it until it’s gone. When one of the oldest anime publishers in America, Central Park Media, went out of business earlier this year, most fans didn’t really notice. The company had been largely dormant for the last several years, not releasing new titles as their already marked-down catalog became increasingly scarce. But as an anime fan whose formative years were in the 1990s, I look at my vast collection and realize that CPM titles make up more of my library than companies who released several times more properties. I didn’t even realize that happened.
Tons of people—perhaps the majority—watch movies, TV, or anime just as something to have on in the background as they do other things (sewing, cooking, playing videogames, etc.). Yet readers of my articles and listeners of the Anime World Order podcast know that I’m a type who deals in extremes. I either want to watch things that are extremely “good” or extremely “terrible” such that I don’t really want entertainment that’s “average” or “good enough.” When I watch something, that’s all I’m doing. “Good enough” isn’t well, good enough. Not when you have my practically undivided attention. As it turns out, the Central Park Media library is perfectly suited to fans like me, or perhaps it helped shape me into the fan I am today. For one look at CPM’s repertoire reveals that they released anime that was either very highly regarded or very highly derided. There’s not quite as much in-between on this compared to say, the list of titles released by ADV Films over the years. To ADV’s credit, they’re taking steps to remedy this by releasing some of the old CPM stuff. I’ll focus on the “darker” side of the CPM spectrum here, as I just got through writing about the typically-reviled MD Geist which ADV just re-released (dude, no commentary track on their release?! THAT WAS THE BEST PART!).
At anime conventions I tend to run “bad anime” panels, and much of the offerings come straight out of the CPM or Manga Video library of yesteryear. But as I tell everyone, my definition of “bad” anime isn’t in sync with most others such that I personally consider the panel title—say, Anime That Sucks or what have you—to be a misnomer. After all, what is a “bad” movie, TV show, anime, manga really? In an entertainment medium, I say that something is “bad” if it fails to entertain or be compelling. Unconvincing acting, low-budget animation, inappropriate music, and preposterous storylines are typically cited as reasons anime is “bad.” But if these things exist at high enough levels, they take on what many people commonly refer to as a “train wreck” quality, which is to say they’re “so bad you can’t look away because you’re compelled by how bad it all is.” It ends up entertaining you “in spite of itself, not because of itself,” as is commonly claimed. But you know something? This line of thinking doesn’t lead anywhere good. Once you start thinking “this isn’t REALLY the reaction they were going for, I’m enjoying it on a whole other level,” it gives rise to this idea that you’re somehow more hip or cool because of it. That you’re only enjoying it from an “ironic” standpoint.
I have little patience for people (like Erin Finnegan) who claim to enjoy things “ironically.” Let me tell you something: you DON’T “ironically” enjoy things. Nobody does. Anyone who claims to do this is really just ashamed to admit they ACTUALLY like something because, despite outward claims to the contrary [for instance, pretending not to care what other people think because “you’re your own person”], they don’t want to be negatively judged by others for it. Well, I say to Hell with it. You’re not going to hear it anywhere else but here, but the following titles from the CPM library are all AWESOME even though just about every single review you’ll find online will do nothing but say how terrible they are:
When it comes to the question “what the heck were they thinking when they made/released this?” perhaps there exists no finer example from the Central Park Media library to ask that question of than Odin: Photon Space Sailer Starlight. I as well as others greater than I have spoken about it at length in the past, but it’s an incredibly high-budget, interminably long story about a caricature-laden crew of merry idiots aboard a sailboat in space, set to a goofy hair metal soundtrack. The only thing more ridiculous than the clothes and hair is the leaps of logic the characters make to deduce the true birthplace of man and the fact that everything is labeled via on-screen captions so you can know what it is you’re looking at. I have seen this movie multiple times from start to finish, for despite its obvious attempts to recapture the magic of Space Battleship Yamato it fails to do so in spectacular fashion.
Dog Soldier: Shadows of the Past is an anime adaptation of a manga by Tetsuya Saruwatari, who, as the artist of Violence Hero Riki-Oh as well as Tough, is one of the greatest creative minds to ever exist. It’s about John Rambo, er, I mean John Kyosuke Hiba and his quest to stop the evil death merchant Phantom, who is a merchant of death. Phantom, a merchant of death that cares only about money—see, they keep reminding you of his death merchant status every chance they get—has control of the ultimate weapon: a vaccine for AIDS. Most writers probably never even considered that the cure for AIDS could be a weapon, but that’s not nearly as deranged as the manga storyline. The same is true for every anime adaptation of a Tetsuya Saruwatari manga, actually. You can’t buy this on DVD, so you’ll have to settle for a scene-by-scene synopsis instead.
Dog Soldier was obviously trying to mimic the mid-1980s Rambo movies, but Crystal Triangle and its would-be Indiana Jones might be the most mind-blowing of them all. Erin Finnegan thinks it makes perfect sense. It’s about the worst archeologist/surprise Beastmaster ever as he searches for the Message of God, outrunning the CIA, KGB, a rocket launcher-wielding rival archeologist (who’s descended from Rasputin), a secret tribe of monks with the power to scream away your BMW, and all. Spoilers: God is a floating green space grub baby aboard a UFO that just wants humanity to use its nuclear arsenal to stop the Nemesis star from causing another mass extinction. Hideaki Anno worked on this as an animator, and I’m pretty sure it’s what triggered the mental breakdown he needed to make Neon Genesis Evangelion. This is also not on DVD, so as a public service you can enjoy a scene-by-scene synopsis.
I could go on and on—why, I didn’t even mention Judge or Garzey’s Wing!—but there is some seriously wild stuff from the Central Park Media library that’s worth hunting down. Thanks to the efforts of people like former CPM employee Justin Sevakis and translator Neil Nadelman, anime fans dedicated enough to read about anime on the Internet (say, that’s YOU!) have heard all about these things in recent years such that it’s probably considered “played out” to write about this stuff. But track them down and watch them anyway. At worst, you’ll have seen a bunch of stuff that’s more awful than you could have possibly imagined such that the next time someone says “man, Naruto is the worst anime ever” you’ll be able to say “let me show you the REAL anime…” and MEAN it. Or you might end up like me, realizing that the line between the commonly-accepted “bests” and the commonly-accepted “worsts” isn’t as clearly drawn as I once thought. One thing’s nearly certain: they’ll leave SOME sort of impression on you!