This Week: Panzer Dragoon
Some weeks I just need to kneecap my score averages over on MAL and wonder why I’m not just actually playing video games.
My favorite video game console is the Sega Dreamcast. My second favorite then, likely goes to its family member the Sega Saturn. Allow me to weave you a little story.
Location: The Electronic Entertainment Expo, 1995.
The Sega Saturn had already launched in Japan in late 1994, and Sega had already announced the Saturn would have its US release on September 2nd, 1995. With this information, Sony positioned themselves for the US launch of the Playstation on September 9th. This was the first home console Sony was launching, and they didn’t want to lose too much advance ground to established players like Sega and Nintendo in the next generation. Having a near simultaneous release would allow them to latch onto the rush of new folks who would be in the market for a new console and feed off of some of the media that comes from all the comparison pieces that would get churned out, which is a strategy still in play today.
At Sega’s E3 press conference in May however, they revealed their stated release date had all been fake. Sony had taken their bait, and that the Saturn was available in stores right now.
It was only with specialty partnered retailers, and the selection of software was a measly six games, but the sheer ability to pull a surprise rollout move like that off was absolutely mindblowing at the time. That would be an almost impossible maneuver to replicate, especially in today’s significantly larger video game industry and the internet. One of the games associated with that launch blitz was a graphics pushing rail shooter, the original Panzer Dragoon.
And all of that which I have just told you is more culturally enriching and emotionally fulfilling than this anime adaptation I am actually about to talk about.
The Panzer Dragoon OVA is that most particular kind of tie in item, the “Thirty minutes or less and you will want your money back” animated video meant to suck the financial resources dry of children with whimsical fantasy notions in their head that haven’t been crushed hard enough by the industry to know how these productions tend to turn out. Even by those standards though, this is bad. Incompetent on multiple levels and a wide scale.
The first thing anyone would notice when the production is in motion is the raw volume of composite shots. Here is a link to the introduction cinematic and first level of the Panzer Dragoon video game. The OVA version liberally takes things like the CGI airships, or especially the backgrounds, and recuts them as sets and props to then draw cel animation around. So we have ink and paint fire coming off of computer prerendered ships, for instance, or hand drawn characters zipping through the ocean ruin sequence from the actual in-game graphics. And the resolution of those drawings are awful. Actual honest to goodness eye wincing in an attempt figure out what the hell was even happening on screen as lens flair and CGI ring dragon breath attacks compete with the cel animation.
It is like the drawings were somehow originally produced and assembled at a similar or lesser resolution as the game graphics, then were composited tape transfers and then blown up to full screen. Even the game footage looks far worse than if you were actually playing the game. This anime was by no means intended to be any kind of archival grade material.
Our generic blank slate of a lead character is a hot blooded and thick headed young man named Kyle, and most of his dialogue can be summed up as either him yelling “Alita!” or “MY LADY!” Repeatedly. It’s that most bland and shrug inducing of romance constructions, in that we are shown these two characters, and if only they yelled just a little bit harder then surely we would know how much they truly feel.
Interestingly, Alita is blind, which is something the production either doesn’t remember to tell us until about halfway through or that just happened to be the point in production where they made it up on the spot. They probably could have done something with that, a blind key member of the cast in a world of airships and such. They don’t, but they could have. Maybe in that Skies of Arcadia sequel that will never actually see the light of day.
There comes a point where one of the characters states “I’m not sure what this is all about” as a reaction to something, and I have to say I mostly agree with them. Very little here has much to really do with the video game, other than the surface level notions of the dragon fights and the associated graphics, so its not like having played it is critical to the experience because it is not engaging in any kind of worldbuilding or the like.
The universe of Panzer Dragoon, while certainly not as established yet at the time as would be performed by its sequels, is at least theoretically promising for what one could potentially chose to do with it. I mean its a world of “cyber-genetic warfare” and lost technology from a distant old world age of humanity that blew itself to the post-apocalypse. That’s a pretty great slate to just rampage around in, and I’d honestly have a much better opinion on it even if the atrocious levels of everything else in the production remained the same.
What we have instead could at least in theory be “a boy and his dragon” kind of story, but Kyle spends most of the runtime when not yammering on about Alita just yelling at the dragon about how much he hates him and his stupid dragon face, so…
The nicest thing I can say about it is that of the people who worked on it, the screenplay was done by Yousuke Kuroda, who has gone on in more recent years to handle series composition and script work for things like Hellsing Ultimate and the currently airing Gundam Build Fighters. So, at the very least, the Panzer Dragoon OVA can be a reminder we are not always eternally defined by a single past colossally dumb screw-up.
That, and were this video game adaptation anime made today, it would be a 10 – 13 episode television run given how the industry has shifted in the time since. So we should all be grateful that never happened.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime series I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.