Review – New Dominion Tank Police

I’m a little bit late with this one, by about fifteen years. My first dalliance with anime came in the mid-nineties during the Manga Video boom. This was also when I was seriously into cyberpunk, so titles like Akira, AD Police, Cyber City, Genocyber, and the original Ghost In The Shell movie were essential items on my video shelf. With that in mind, you’d think that I would have bought the original Dominion Tank Police, and New Dominion Tank Police quicker than you can blink. There were two reasons why I did not. First is VHS. You youngsters may not know this, but VHS takes up quite a bit of room. I had one shelf of anime, about 16 titles, and that was it, no more room at the inn. The second reason was that no one had invented the Internet. It’s easy now, if you want to know more about something, you just Google it. But back in 1995, after being blown away by the latest cyberpunk anime video, if I was interested in finding out more, it was seriously hard work. What I wouldn’t have given back then to have a handy resource to just type Masamune Shirow, Katsuhiro Otomo, or Yoshiaki Kawajiri in and see what else was available. Maybe instead of the Junk Boy, Urotsukidoji and Angel Cop videos that I still have, I would have bought shows like Appleseed, and Dominion Tank Police instead. Dominion Tank Police is available on DVD from ILC if you are interested, although the dub only discs put me right off (Manga dubs of the period are painful). The Region 1 release is deleted, although still available for ridiculous sums of money. Fortunately, there is plenty of the sequel, New Dominion Tank Police still to be had, courtesy of Manga Entertainment.

New Dominion Tank Police is set in the high rise, concrete and steel, neon metropolis of Newport City, a world populated by advanced cyborgs and androids and robots, where technology defines how society lives, works and plays, all set in the distant future of 2010. Hey! It seemed like the distant future back in 1995 when this show was made. At least there aren’t any flying cars. But there are tanks, plenty of tanks. In a world where crime and terrorism are rampant, the police need a little more firepower to accomplish their role of urban pacification. When rioters have RPGs, you’ll be glad of 2-inch thick titanium steel armour between you and the villain. The thing about tanks is though, that they aren’t exactly kind to the environment, and the Tank Police often wind up causing more damage than they prevent. It causes friction with the chief, and the city mayor, especially when Squad Leader Leona Ozaki and her specially modified mini-tank Bonaparte are often at the centre of the havoc. All six episodes of the OVA series are presented here on a dual layer disc from Manga Entertainment.

When Leona drives through a funeral of a top civic official, just to get to a fleeing criminal, she winds up wrecking a city block, being caught on camera, and has the Chief and the Mayor as an audience. The Tank Police is grounded, until Detective Higashinada can come in and audit them. It isn’t long before he’s suggesting new ways of doing things and rubbing people the wrong way, especially Leona who just finds him creepy. Then a new machine appears in Newport and starts wreaking havoc.

A woman fleeing through a car park is caught by a mysterious tattooed man, and murdered. The only witnesses are android catgirls Unipuma and Annapuma. The dead woman was Leona’s ex-partner Charon, and when she presses the chief to let her investigate, she winds up out of work. It isn’t going to stop her though, and she’s soon tracking the Puma sisters down to find out what they know. It leads her to the front door of the Dainippon Giken Research Corporation, and straight into trouble.

The Mayor has enacted a Clean up the City policy, which means getting all the weapons off the streets, and which means stopping a suspected arms shipment at the docks. That’s all forgotten though when a truck goes out of control on the highway, crushing several cars and even wrecking Bonaparte when Leona tries to stop it. The truck is on autopilot, loaded with explosives, and heading directly for the centre of the city. The Mayor orders the evacuation, but it may be too little too late. It falls to the Tank Police to avert disaster. And it’s a Dainippon Giken truck.

With the city shrouded in toxic smog, it’s the perfect cover for the android Puma sisters to steal Bonaparte, and with the smoky atmosphere and Leona’s malfunctioning alarm clock, the theft isn’t noticed until it’s too late. It all falls down to Dainippon Giken again, as with the Mayor’s anti-weapon policy, they are looking to other means to turn a profit, and one of their operatives actually chose Bonaparte in which to hide a valuable data disc. When Leona and her partner Al eventually track down their tank, they find a deal about to go sour.

It looks like the city is about to fall apart, when a raid engineers a mass breakout at the prison. The Tank Police are run ragged just trying to keep up, and meanwhile Dainippon executives use the mayhem to mask their own illegal activities. Leona has just managed to capture the Puma sisters, who were taking advantage of a bank raid to fill their own pockets, when the news comes in. Someone is going to assassinate the Mayor.

The Tank Police had tried to keep the Mayor’s survival secret, but the secret got out. Unsurprising, when you have a battalion guarding the city hospital. As the hostile takeover of Dainippon Giken Research gathers pace, it becomes part of the deal that the job be finished with regards to the Mayor. Another set of robots is unleashed. The Tank Police do their best to stop them, while Leona tracks down the hidden controller by tracking the radio connection. The trail leads to a foreign embassy, and Leona finds her hands tied by diplomacy.

It’s one of those 4:3 regular transfers that get the job done. With nearly three hours of animation on a dual-layer disc, you’d be forgiven for not expecting pin sharp definition and absolute clarity, and indeed New Dominion Tank Police is prone to compression artefacts. That said, it looks pretty good for its age, the image is sharp enough, and the animation comes across with vibrancy and energy.

It’s an old style cel animation so there’s not a lot of digital accuracy and perfection here. But the animation is excellent, fluid and expressive, while the character and especially the mecha designs come across well. The future city is a little generic, but once you’ve seen as many future metropolises as I have, they begin to blur into one.

You have a choice between DD 2.0 Japanese and DD 5.1 and 2.0 English. Pick Japanese, it’s far more easier on the ears. This anime comes from the old Manga Video days, when English language dubs were recorded in the UK, but for universal saleability, the characters were given American accents. It isn’t good, and admittedly there is some fun to be had with these old dubs, as they in no way let you take the show seriously. The dub also changes the essence of the show in some instances. There are scenes in the original Japanese that have just music playing over the action, and for dramatic effect, the dialogue and the sound effects drop out, this is immediately apparent in the opening sequence. The English dub puts the dialogue back in, which isn’t the original intent.

As for the subtitles, they aren’t the dreaded dubtitles; the opening theme gets its lyrics translated (while the English version uses an instrumental version). However, it does look as if they were taken from an early dub script, and by and large they do match with the English dialogue. The English audio does have the added dialogue mentioned before, though, and it is liberally laced with profanity that isn’t in the subtitles. The music works well with the theme of the show; indeed the opening track is memorable from a thousand Manga Video trailer reels.

Inside the Amaray case, you’ll find a mini-poster featuring the Puma sisters, as well as some information about the show on the reverse. On the disc, you’ll find a Manga Entertainment trailer reel, as well as the New Port City Tank Police Personnel & Weapons Files. 13 characters and two pieces of technology are looked at here, but you should leave reading them for after you have watched the disc, as there are plenty of spoilers for the episodes.

New Dominion Tank Police was a blast from the past, an anime from a bygone age, where the immediate aim was to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. That’s before Manga Video got their mitts on it and inserted a few choice swearwords into the dub to spice things up. So while New Dominion Tank Police has plenty of action and sci-fi at its core, it’s also played broadly for laughs, has some unexpected slapstick, a pair of sexy android catgirls, a little romance, some politics, corporate double dealing, and some stereotypical comedy sidekick characters. Compared to the modern diversity in anime, the story driven plots, careful characterisations, and reluctance to pander to audience sensibilities, it seems charmingly naïve.

It’s also a good deal of fun, certainly one of the stronger shows of the era, with high production values and no little thought put into its story. Of the three Masamune Shirow stories I have encountered, New Dominion Tank Police is the most accessible, lacking the esoteric philosophies of Ghost In The Shell, and presenting a future more immediately recognisable than that of Appleseed. Instead New Dominion Tank Police feels like what he did to relax after a hard day of slaving over ink and pad. It feels like a playground with all the same pieces of his other creations, cyborgs, androids, mecha, and metropolises, but one in which the main aim is to have fun.

New Dominion Tank Police is fast paced, action packed, entertaining silliness, the sort of thing that works just fine as post pub viewing. I must admit that it holds a special place in my heart simply for the nostalgia factor alone. It’s the sort of anime that I was weaned on back in the nineties, and although I never actually saw it then, it still feels like coming back to an old friend watching it now. It’s also a sign of how much the anime industry has changed. I recall the dub videotapes for sale in Forbidden Planet. Each half hour episode got its own tape, and the typical retail price was around £15. The whole series would have put you back £90. This single DVD collects all six episodes, adds a few extras and retails for the price of a single VHS tape back then. I got this disc on sale for £4. For that price, you may as well take a chance and buy it.

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