This Week: Cool Devices.
What I have here is one of those “all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares” kind of conundrums, and I need to figure out what kind of geometry I am looking at.
Except in this case it is pornography versus erotica.
An eleven episode hentai OVA series with some rotating guest staff appointments, and in that respect aiming to orient itself as a kind of more modernized (well, for the 1990’s) Cream Lemon.
This is actually one of those kinds of releases I heard about a bunch when I attended a physical anime club back in middle and high school. Much like how seemingly everyone has an uncle who works at Nintendo / SEGA / etc, Cool Devices was one of those things certain anime folks liked to claim they saw to sound a lot more hardcore. But their personal stories were so conflicting and easy to derail everyone pretty much knew they were all full of hot air. But, I have been a reasonable adult for some years now who has watched plenty of crazed exploitation films in all the time since, and after popping in Kite a few weeks ago I came across Yasuomi Umetsu’s name attached as a credit to an entry of the Cool Devices collection and reminding me about this set. So, fast forward a bit, and here we are! Trying to figure out what kind of sex cartoons those folks from years back were trying to pretend to show off about.
I should be more reasonable and finish Umetsu’s own Wizard Barristers by next week though, which aired earlier this year, so there is that.
In intent, I actually do not mind the on paper objective of the Cool Devices series. By being more of an anthology collection under a unified title, as most of the episodes have little to do with one another, it frees up a lot of potential creative ideas.
Like the aforementioned Cream Lemon then, this does run a conceptual gamut, here ranging from a rich business heir who hosts wild parties at his estate but watches from his video monitor command center as he can not bring himself to act on what he really wants, to some memory shenanigans seemingly out of The Twilight Zone, to Alice in Wonderland meets space fantasy. Fair enough, we have enough of an idea train to run with. And, fitting for the kind of erotica market this seems to have wanted to orient itself for, a lot of the sexual content and scene composition is designed around longer narrative builds to various kinds of the more penetrative visuals, and even then often obscuring various things due to angle selection, that sort of thing. Many episodes, for as much sexual content as they do manage to fit in (and let me reiterate, there is still oodles and bunches, particularly bondage and such), would probably be pretty disappointing to folks just looking to fill an immediate few minute long personal sexual need.
That said, the series goes a degree further, in that I also found lot of these episodes pretty boring.
For how varied so many of the scenarios are, several of the narratives in the set do boil down to pretty similar Naive Character Learns To Love BDSM frameworks. Which, you know, is actually fine and all as a concept by itself. Indeed, the first episode of Cool Devices is exactly one of those stories, and at that it is also I would consider probably one of the strongest episodes of the entire set! It seemed Green Bunny had the most amount of money or ambition to throw at it, at any rate. The thing is the handful of future episodes reliant on similar narratives, in perhaps an attempt to either cut corners or recapture itself, do not come off as well polished. So the repetitive nature of them becomes increasingly trickier to shrug off, especially as the quality buckles around.
As I mentioned the rotating staff elements, those get to be some of the more interesting aspects to keep track of and engage with.
Yumisuke Kotoyoshi for instance did the directing and character designs for episode four, Kirei, who would be most well known probably for doing the Saber Marionette J manga art. And if that rings a bell for you, you may well be thinking “I am not sure I want to see that character design work in an erotica context,” and you are probably right. Certainly, at the very least that episode stands out a lot given the radical departure in character appearances and proportions.
As I already mentioned Yasuomi Umetsu, their designs came into play for episode seven, Yellow Star, which in the time since Kite I had read was essentially its prototype film . I would agree with that assessment wholeheartedly, as many of the plot beats are within a degree of each other (crooked cop overseeing teenage girl, copious rape, explosive devices, etc). At the same time, it is also not as refined as Kite is (if we can call it that) at what Kite does. The choreography in Yellow Star is not as tight, the sex scenes often use that animation saving technique where one just blur fades between two wildly different frames back and forth to simulate motion, and so on. One can unquestionably see the creative link between the works, but to that end I would also say one would be better off just watching Kite unless they want to engage with the academic or completionist exercise of having seen both it and Yellow Star.
A lot of Cool Devices feels like I do about Yellow Star, really.
Some potentially interesting stuff here and there, but by and large either drowned out by repeating itself within its own series confines or from other works just outright doing what some of these shorts want to do far better with more elaborate execution and attention to detail. Not even necessarily later anime either, as something like the decade previous action comedy oriented Pop Chaser episode of Cream Lemon alone floors all of the episodes of Cool Devices when it comes to things like cel animation quality, timing, and so on. And Cool Devices really, really wants to be Cream Lemon while simultaneously trying to position itself as more hardcore. But not really getting what that would mean most of the time, so it is often left brandishing a whip it has no idea how to actually put to most effective use.
So maybe, in the end, it really does feel like the blustery statements of those folks I used to know who never even watched it themselves.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime 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.