“You haven’t forgotten the routine, have you?” – Dominion Tank Police

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Dominion Tank Police

Like all great stories, it had at its heart, a love triangle.  This one was between a man, a woman and a tank.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.  This week, I’m looking back at Dominion Tank Police, an anarchic sci-fi comedy about an armoured police unit set up to deal with spiraling urban crime.

Beginning in 1988, the four-episode anime series follows former motorcycle cop Leona Ozaki, newly transferred into the police tank division, as they butt heads with leering super-bandit Buaku and his gang of outcasts.  A bunch of macho cowboys, the tank jockeys make fun of her gentle image and virtually expel her after she inadvertently trashes the tank of her senior, Lieutenant Brenten, during a patrol.  Leona soon hits back, however, enlisting beat-partner Al to help her build a new, bike-style mini-tank from the wreckage.  With this, she might just turn the tables on Buaku and, ironically, prove herself every bit as crazy as the rest of her colleagues…

Perhaps responding to suggestions that his earlier hit, Appleseed, was ‘fascist future cop porn’, manga artist and writer Masamune Shirow planted tongue firmly in cheek when he created this one.  You don’t need to look hard to see that the tank police are every bit as dangerous as the criminals they pursue, but their larger than life characterisation still makes them a loveable bunch; passing time with rounds of grenade golf or turning their interrogations into a ridiculous gameshow.  Heavily armed stick-up king Buaku also has a definite hint of the Joker about him, playing out his heists like schoolboy pranks.  There may be a more meaningful agenda somewhere deep beneath his comic bravado, but it’s easily missed when his female lieutenants’ idea of creating a distraction is to launch into an elaborate burlesque striptease.

Set in a vaguely post-apocalyptic vision of future Japan, where the country is covered in a thick layer of toxic smog, the series also makes a surprisingly effective job of injecting its bawdy, Carry-On level humour into a remarkably bleak and violent world.  Due to the pollution level, going out without a gas-mask poses potentially lethal consequences, and the city is trapped in an apparently endless night, broken only by neon signs and streetlights.  The jokes may be crude, but they’re clearly born of desperation.  This is actually more noticeable in the English dubbed version, as the peppy j-pop soundtrack has largely been stripped out in favour of moodier synth music.  The end result is a bit like Blade Runner, but with more knob-gags.

The art and animation may look a little rough around the edges, clearly betraying the 1980s styling, but the show has aged better than many of its contemporaries.  Some of the more fanciful ideas from Shirow’s manga sadly didn’t make it (a submarine that dives beneath the desert sand!), but the series does a good job of replicating his distinctive artwork, preserving both the excellent mechanical detail and the curiously organic looking buildings.  Amusingly, the tiny tank on which Leona lavishes all her affection (much to the frustration of Al, clearly besotted with Leona from the off) even went on to have a life outwith the show, having undoubtedly inspired the design for arcade game icon ‘Metal Slug’.

It’s unlikely to sway anyone unmoved by ’80s anime in general, but Dominion is a short and silly piece of punk fantasy with just enough substance to make it a memorable and worthy pickup.

A follow-up series appeared in the mid-’90s (under the ‘New Dominion’ monicker in English) but, despite vastly improved production values, the story suffered.  Buaku was nowhere to be seen and the quirky setting was all but lost, the pollution having evidently become far less severe.  The new series is still entertaining, but it feels far more conventional, lacking the punk sensibility that made the original so memorable.

Much to my frustration, a truly woeful CGI one-shot also appeared in 2006; badly directed, terribly written and suffering from laughable ‘floaty’ character models.  Based on the lesser, but still worthy Conflict One timeline, the apparent (and unsurprising) failure of this production has seemingly killed the prospect of any further Dominion anime for the foreseeable future.  I may be biased (the original still takes a top spot in my personal favourites), but I’m convinced a good writing team would surely have great fun with Buaku’s Joker-esque antics or the fine line between Dominion’s cops and criminals.

Although it’s all long out of print, the original series was released twice on UK DVD and can be had relatively easily, but try to get the later ILC release, as I believe it has both English and Japanese language tracks.  The old R1 release is harder to find now, but it contains both tracks and all four episodes on one disc (it’s the one I’ve got).  I couldn’t comment on how picture quality compares across the board, but again, while a better release allegedly exists in Japan, I think the English releases all come from an average quality laserdisc transfer.

(Originally posted to the BGCP Facebook page on 3/1/14)

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